Skip to main content

Full text of "Oscar Wilde and myself"

See other formats


^.r> 






.ORD ALFRED DOUGLAS 





Hiim)Hmi}tniiitiiii!UifiutJif!!i!!iiSiiiii;n'!i{:'nn 



\ IN- 



OSCAR WILDE AND MYSELF 



OSCAR WILDE 
AND MYSELF 



BY 



LORD ALFRED DOUGLAS 



WITH PORTRAIT OP THE AUTHOR 

AND THIRTEEN OTHER PORTRAITS AND ILLUSTRATIONS 

ALSO FAC-SIMILE LETTERS 




New York 

Duffield & Company 
1914 



Copyright, 1914, by 
DuFTiBW) & Company 



Preface 

THE manuscript of this book was completed 
by me and handed over to the publishers 
as long ago as last July. Certain persons 
thereupon deemed it advisable to apply to the Court 
for an injunction restraining me from including 
in my book any of the letters from Oscar Wilde 
which were in my possession, and they further 
applied for an injunction restraining me from quot- 
ing from the unpublished portion of the **De 
Profundis" manuscript which is now sealed up at 
the British Museum and which was used against 
me in open Court as part of the justification in the 
defence to a libel action brought by me jn ApriL 
191 3. The application for these injunctions was 
made in the Vacation Court before Mr. Justice 
Astbury, the most recent recruit to the Judicial 
Bench. It was immediately granted, and though 
I was advised by counsel to appeal against the 



vi Preface 

decision, I thought it better to accept it, at any rate 
for the moment. Consequently, ail the copious 
extracts I was intending to publish from the " De 
Profundis," which extracts had already been repro- 
duced in all the newspapers at the hearing of the 
action of Douglas v, Ransome and The Times 
Book Club have been entirely removed. The same 
applies to those letters of Wilde's which I had 
originally included in my book. As far as the let- 
ters are concerned, the omission does not very 
much aifect the book. The letters were included 
not to make points against my opponents, but 
merely as interesting curiosities. The enforced 
omission of the extracts from the unpublished **De 
Profundis" has, on the other hand, been an un- 
doubted handicap to me. A considerable portion 
of this book is devoted to a reply to the violently 
mendacious attacks made upon me and upon my 
family by Wilde in that unpublished portion of the 
** De Profundis" which has been accepted by the 
authorities of the British Museum from the literary 
executor of the late author. Obviously it is very 
difficult to reply to an attack which one is unable 
to quote, and I can only say that I have met the 



Preface vii 

difficulty as best 1 could, and that at a future date 
I look forward to being able to deal with the whole 
matter even more completely and finally. In this 
connection I refer my readers to the chapter in this 
book entitled *' A Challenge to Mr. Ross." 

ALFRED BRUCE DOUGLAS 

Boulogne-sur-Mer 
April, 1 9 14 



To my Mother 
Sibyl, Marchioness of Queensberry 



Contents 



CHAPTER PAGE 

Introductory 3 

I. Oxford . 11 

II. Lost Illusions 25 

III. Wilde in Society 33 

IV. The Lord of Language 42 

V. Our Mutual Friends 53 

VI. Lord Queensberry Intervenes ... 68 

VII. The Wilde Trials 90 

VIII. Hard Labour and After 106 

IX. Naples and Paris 122 

X. The "Ballad of Reading Gaol" . . . 140 

XI. The Truth about "De Profundis" . . 146 

XII. My Letters to Wilde 166 

XIII. My Letters to Labouchere . . . . 179 

XIV. The Article in THE "Revue Blanche" . 184 
XV. Fifteen Years of Persecution . . .189 

XVI. Wilde's Poetry 197 

XVII. The Plays and Prose Works .... 213 

XVIII. For Posterity ........ 226 

XIX. The British Museum and "De Profun- 
dis" 232 

xi 



xii Contents 

CHAPTER PAGB 

XX. Ransome's "Critical Study" .... 240 

XXI. My Actions for Libel 247 

XXII. "The Picture of Dorian Gray" . . .255 

XXIII. Literature and Vice 266 

XXIV. Crosland and "The First Stone" . . 272 
XXV. A Challenge to Mr. Ross 278 

XXVI. Wilde in Russia, France and Germany 283 

XXVII. The Smaller Fry 289 

XXVIII. To Be Done with It All 294 

Index 299 



List of Illustrations 

Lord Alfred Douglas Frontispiece 

TO FACE PAGE 

Oscar Wilde 20 

Lord Alfred Douglas, at the age of twenty-one, at 
Oxford 30 

Caricature by Max Beerbohm of Oscar Wilde and 
Lord Alfred Douglas 56 

Oscar Wilde's House, 16 Tite Street, Chelsea . . 68 

The Late Marquis of Queensberry 86 

Drawing of Lord Alfred Douglas, at the age of 
Twenty-four 104 

Cafe de la Paix, Paris 126 

Grand Cafe, Paris 132 

Hotel d'Alsace, Paris 138 

Raymond Wilfrid Sholto Douglas, only child of 
Lord Alfred Douglas 160 

Lady Alfred Douglas 194 

KiNMouNT House, Annan, the Seat of the Late 
Marquis of Queensberry, where Lord Alfred 
Douglas's childhood was passed .... 228 

Monument erected over Oscar Wilde's Grave, Pere 

la Chaise, Paris 246 

xiii 



OSCAR WILDE AND MYSELF 



Introductory 

OUT of little things there may come a peck 
of troubles. I suppose that my first 
meeting with Oscar Wilde was to me, 
at that time, a little thing. By this I do not mean 
that I was other than glad to meet a man of Wilde's 
culture and attainments, but I was not particularly 
impressed by him at first, and, if I had never set 
eyes on him, I should certainly have lost nothing. 
As Fate arranges matters, our acquaintance has 
brought the gravest disasters, not only upon myself, 
but upon those nearest and dearest to me. The 
purpose of the present book is not to complain of 
what had happened or to rail against Oscar Wilde, 
who, for years, was my close friend and who, at one 
time in our friendship, held me fascinated by what 
I conceived to be his genius. That he had what 
passed for genius nobody will, I think, nowadays 
dispute, though it used to be the fashion to pooh- 
pooh him for a mere poseur and decadent. If our 
friendship had remained a private friendship — 

3 



4 Oscar Wilde and Myself 

like many other of Wilde's friendships — instead of 
being bruited abroad from every housetop, this 
book would never have been written. From the 
moment Wilde's name became notorious, however, 
people have been careful to link our names to- 
gether, and even more careful to link them together 
in scandalous ways. There are many persons now 
alive who were friends with Wilde in the days of 
his greatness and prosperity; and, without a single 
exception, so far as I am aware, their friendship 
is reckoned to their credit, and, in some instances, 
has proved highly advantageous to them from 
many points of view. Yet what was a virtue in 
these persons would seem to have been a crime in 
me. I have never boasted of my relations with 
Wilde and, though I have had many proposals from 
editors and publishers to say my say about my 
friend for handsome remuneration, I have never 
previously taken a penny piece from any of them. 
I have always known that there was nothing in our 
friendship of which I need be ashamed and, 
although the tongue of malice and slander has been 
busy with my name almost without ceasing since 
the day of Wilde's downfall, I looked to time and 
the facts to set me right. 

Since Wilde's downfall, my life has been lived 
tender conditions of which it is to be hoped few 



Introductory 5 

persons have had experience. Always I have had 
to fight the cunningly contrived innuendo which, 
while it could not be nailed to the counter and re- 
butted in the Courts of Law, nevertheless did its 
deadly work and threw its bitter odium over my 
name and fame. On occasions out of number I 
have had to take expensive legal proceedings in 
sheer self-defence. Generally, the parties con- 
cerned have been people of straw, who apologised 
abjectly or disappeared or got out by asserting that 
they did not mean what they had tried to say, imme- 
diately the writs were issued. My own determina- 
tion has always been to refrain from litigation 
on the subject, unless it were absolutely forced upon 
me. How far I was wise in this determination 
is another affair. 

It may seem a simple and easy thing to wipe out 
slander. How difficult it is, only the few persons 
who have had a really foul and abominable slander 
put up against them can know. In addition to the 
multitudinous gentlemen with ready pens who have 
not scrupled to decry and defame me, I have for 
years had to contend with the class of persons who 
had letters to sell or letters to print, and who have 
ever been handy with their documents and '^inside 
information" when opportunity might arise 
whereby they hoped to turn an honest penny. For 



6 Oscar Wilde and Myself 

these gentry I have encouraged a proper contempt, 
and not one of them has had from me a single six- 
pence or a breath of appeal for the mercy which 
they believed themselves capable of extending. 
Later, a Mr. Arthur Ransome — whom I had not 
known as an acquaintance of Wilde and who had 
no acquaintance with myself — went out of his way 
to assert in a book, which purported to be an inti- 
mate study of Wilde, that the latter had attributed 
some measure of his public obloquy to my influence 
over him ; and, further, that I had lived upon Wilde 
after his imprisonment and left him stranded at 
Naples when his financial resources were exhausted. 
I took an action for libel against Ransome and his 
publishers and The Times Book Club, with the re- 
sult that the publishers withdrew Ransome's book 
from circulation, leaving him and The Times Book 
Club to make what defence they could. The jury 
found for the defendants on the first libel, and that 
the second libel was not a libel at all. It will interest 
all parties concerned to know that this is exactly 
the finding which I anticipated, and it is note- 
worthy that the libels of which I complained have 
been expunged from the new edition of the book. 
Mr. Justice Darling and the defendants' counsel 
repeatedly observed during the course of the trial 
that they could not understand what motive had 



Introductory 7 

prompted me to come into court. A letter which 
Wilde addressed to me previous to his imprison- 
ment, and other letters which I had written to him, 
were read by defendants' counsel. Judge, counsel 
and jury alike appear to have imagined that, if I 
had known of the existence of these letters, I should 
not have brought my action. In point of fact, I 
was well aware of their existence and I was told, 
while the action was still pending, that they were 
to be raked up and that I should be ''simply evis- 
cerated" in the witness-box. Well, I went like a 
lamb to the evisceration, and Mr. Justice Darling 
marvelled at my lack of worldly wisdom. 

In the following pages I shall set out the whole 
details of my relationship with Oscar Wilde, and 
I do so, not by way of defence or apology — ^because 
I need neither — but simply with a view to making 
clear in the public interest, and for the benefit of 
posterity, the true inwardness of Wilde's writing 
and character. I take this step as much for Wilde's 
sake as for my own. 

During his imprisonment at Reading, Oscar 
Wilde was permitted the use of pen and ink, and 
he appears to have relieved the tedium of his in- 
carceration by writing eighty thousand words, or 
thereabouts, addressed to myself. A copy of the 
manuscript is alleged to have been sent to me by 



8 Oscar Wilde and Myself 

post, shortly after its completion. Half of it has 
been published under the aegis of Mr. Robert Ross, 
and is known to the world as "De Profundis." The 
nature and drift of the published portion of the 
MSS. needs no comment from me at this juncture. 
The unpublished parts, however, may reasonably 
be described as a frantic attack upon me. Till a 
copy of this attack came into my hands during the 
time the Ransome action was pending, I had no 
knowledge of its existence. At the trial, it trans- 
pired that this farrago of hysterical abuse had been 
handed by Mr. Ross to the authorities at the British 
Museum as a present to the nation, and that it was 
not to be made public till 1960, when it is to be 
hoped we shall all be dead. I could have wished, 
for the sake of my old friend, that Mr. Ross had 
seen the wisdom of destroying a piece of writing 
which even Mr. Justice Darling conceives to be 
evil and discreditable to its author. Whether or 
not it is my property is a legal problem. I have 
applied to the British Museum for its return, but 
so far without success. Mr. Ross's "present to 
the nation" may possibly abide on the British 
Museum's shelves, unperused by the curious, till 
1960. My own present to Mr. Ross and to the 
weeping worshippers . of Wilde is delivered here- 
with, and can be opened and read by him who runs 



Introductory 9 

while we have still a little breath. The result of 
Mr. Ross's action would seem to be that, if the Brit- 
ish Museum do, in fact, disclose the contents of the 
manuscript after my death Wilde will be disgraced 
and confounded on his own evidence. 



Oscar Wilde and Myself 



CHAPTER I 

OXFORD 

AFTER leaving Winchester, where I won the 
school steeplechase and edited a paper 
- called the Pentagram — the only literary 
or journalistic venture, by the way, out of which 
I ever made a profit — I went up to Oxford in the 
ordinary course. I was entered at Magdalen Col- 
lege, and I remained an undergraduate of the 
University for four years. Magdalen, as it always 
has been in recent times, and still continues to be, 
was considered a more or less fashionable college. 
It was the never-ending boast of Oscar Wilde that 
he had been there. The continuous ''when I was 
at Oxford" which crops up in his writings was 
complemented by continuous ''when I was at Mag- 
dalen" in his conversation. I do not know that 
there was anything extraordinary about Magdalen 
in my time. I look back upon my life there as 
fairly pleasant, and chiefly so because I had the 
companionship of my friend, the late Viscount En- 

II 



12 Oscar Wilde and Myself 

combe, whose death at the early age of twenty- 
eight was a great blow to me. Of course, I met at 
Oxford all the people who were supposed to be 
worth meeting. There was Mr. Warren, then, as 
now. President of Magdalen, whom I remember on 
account of his black beard and his very obsequious 
treatment of myself. He was a profound admirer 
of Matthew Arnold, whose poetry he urged me to 
study and imitate. He also, rather incongruously, 
professed great admiration for the writings of his 
personal friend, John Addington Symonds. I say 
''incongruously;'' for an admiration for Matthew 
Arnold ought surely to preclude an admiration for 
Symonds, at any rate, as far as poetry is concerned. 
For Oscar Wilde he also admitted a great par- 
tiality. They had been contemporaries at the Uni- 
versity in their undergraduate days and, to a certain 
extent, friends. When Wilde came up to see me 
at Oxford, he always made a point of calling on 
Mr. Warren, and on these occasions I invariably 
accompanied him, and I thus had the advantage 
of profiting by their conversation, which, needless 
to say, generally turned on literary matters; but I 
cannot honestly say that I was greatly edified or 
that any gems of purest ray serene from these duo- 
logues have remained shining in my memory. When 
I first became an intimate friend of Oscar Wilde, 



Oxford 13 

my mother, who had an instinctive disHke of Wilde, 
wrote to Mr. Warren and asked him if he consid- 
ered Wilde was the sort of man who would be a 
good friend for me. The President, in reply, sent 
her a long letter in which he gave Wilde a very 
high character, praised his great gifts and achieve- 
ments of scholarship and literature, and assured her 
that I might consider myself lucky to have obtained 
the favourable notice of such an eminent man. I 
mention this, not as anything to Mr. Warren's 
detriment, but simply to show the sort of reputation 
Wilde at that time enjoyed among the big-wigs of 
the University. 

Then there was Walter Pater, to whom I was 
introduced by Wilde on the first occasion when the 
latter visited me at Oxford. Wilde had an im- 
mense opinion of Pater and spoke of him always 
with reverence as the greatest living writer of prose. 
I tried hard to appreciate Pater and he personally 
was kind to me, but quite apart from the fact that 
he had practically no conversation and would sit 
for hours without saying more than an occasional 
word, I never could bring myself to have more 
than a very limited admiration for his far-famed 
prose, which has always seemed to me artificial, 
finnicking and over-elaborated to an exasperating 
degree. I have altogether livelier recollections of 



14 Oscar Wilde and Myself 

Mr., now the Reverend Dr. Bussell, Pater's most 
intimate friend at Brazenose, for he was a fine 
musician and had a devotion to Handel and Bach 
which endears his memory to me to this day. 

Next to Encombe, probably my best friend among 
the undergraduates of my day was the poet Lionel 
Johnson, a frail, tiny man, with probably the finest 
head and the kindest heart in the University. We 
talked and wrote a considerable amount of poetry 
together, and it was Johnson who introduced me 
to Oscar Wilde. At this period Wilde had just 
begun to be considered a person of some promise 
m letters. He had outgrown "sesthetics" and had 
written "The Picture of Dorian Gray" and "Inten- 
tions," and was rehearsing his first play: Lady 
Windermere's Fan, 

One vacation I went with Johnson to Wilde's 
house in Tite Street, and over dinner commenced 
a friendship which was to be none too fortunate for 
either of us. For some reason or other Wilde in- 
sisted on being considerably more brilliant that 
evening than ever he was afterwards. Indeed, he 
fired oflf witticisms so persistently and with such an 
evident anxiety not to miss even the slenderest of 
opportunities that, while I had come to the meeting 
in the spirit of the youthful admirer, or literary 
hero-worshipper, I went away with a sort of feeling 



Oxford 15 

that I had been at a show and that I had not seen 
a really great man after all. However, as our ac- 
quaintance ripened, I began to understand, or im- 
agine that I understood, Wilde's moods. I soon 
perceived that he said quite half of everything he 
had to say with his tongue in his cheek and that one 
should not really take him seriously, because his 
only aim in conversation was not to say what he 
believed, but to say what he supposed to be witty, 
profound, whimsical or brilliant at the moment. 
Further, I soon discovered that Wilde was one of 
those conversationalists who were conscious of the 
value, not only of their own mots, but of those of 
other people, and that his or my joke or epigram 
let loose over lunch on Monday was bound to figure 
in the bit of dialogue or portion of an essay which 
he would indite, with the help of stifif whiskies-and- 
sodas and illimitable cigarettes, on a Tuesday morn- 
ing. At the same time, I cheerfully admit that I 
found him an agreeable, entertaining and even 
lovable acquaintance. He had, of course, an eye 
for humour and beauty, he was a great deal of a 
scholar, he spoke good English and excellent 
French, and he had a pleasant voice and a charming 
delivery. Compared with the average man-about- 
town he shone, and compared with the average 
*'man of genius" he scintillated. 



16 Oscar Wilde and Myself 

During my second year at Oxford I contributed 
to the Oxford Magazine, the official journal of the 
University, a poem which pleased everybody but its 
author and provoked the excellent Mr. Warren to 
write me a lengthy letter of praise and congratula- 
tion. Unfortunately, I have not got this epistle at 
hand, otherwise I might be tempted to print it with 
a view of convincing the University Oxford that I 
am indeed somewhat of a poet. This was the first 
serious poem I ever wrote or, at any rate, preserved, 
and it is now included in the ''City of the Soul." I 
also contributed on several occasions to an under- 
graduate paper called The Spirit Lamp^ which was 
owned by a man whose name I forget, but he called 
on me one day and explained that he was going- 
down and very munificently offered to make me a 
present of his journalistic property if, as he diffi- 
dently put it, I cared to take it on and would prom- 
ise to continue its high traditions to the best of 
my ability. I gave this gentleman the necessary 
assurances, and The Spirit Lamp became mine. Six 
or seven subsequent numbers appeared under my 
editorship, and copies of these numbers are, I under- 
stand, worth considerably more than their published 
price in what is known as the market. Of my own 
contributions I have a poor opinion, though they 
were warmly appreciated at the time of their ap- 



Oxford 17 

pearance by that class of person who makes warm 
appreciations a sort of hobby. I am proud of the 
fact, however, that I printed some of Lionel John- 
son's best verses and several contributions from 
the late John Addington Symonds, and I also had 
the advantage of various contributions from Wilde, 
including his prose poems "The Disciple" and "The 
House of Judgment," and what I consider to be 
the best sonnet he ever wrote. Wilde frequently 
came to Oxford in those days, and on several occa- 
sions stayed as my guest in the rooms in High 
Street which I shared with my friend. Lord En- 
combe. 

Although throughout my career as an under- 
graduate I was keenly interested in poetry and 
letters generally, I did not profess to belong to any 
literary set and I had no notion of taking to writing 
as a profession. My name and family traditions 
marked me out for the sporting and convivial side 
of University life rather than for serious literary 
endeavour. I read for the Honours school in a 
desultory kind of way, but relieved the tedium of 
my prescribed studies by a good deal of riding and 
boating and fairly regular attendance at such race- 
meetings as were within reasonable distance of 
what Mr. Ruskin doubtless called his Alma Mater. 
At the same time, my interest in poetry was well 



18 Oscar Wilde and Myself 

known in the University, and I was considered a 
poet of promise and parts. 

Of course, every undergraduate who can write 
poetry at all is expected to compete for the Newdi- 
gate prize. I was frequently urged by my friends 
to enter for this prize, but none of the subjects set 
during my first three years at Oxford appealed to 
me. Tennyson, if I remember rightly, won the 
Newdigate with a poem about Timbuctoo. Such 
a subject while, perhaps, entertaining enough in 
its way, is, obviously, not very inspiring and cer- 
tainly not calculated to induce the production of 
high poetry. As I have said, the subjects set in 
my first three years did not excite in me any great 
poetical emotion. In my fourth year, however, the 
subject was St. Francis of Assisi, and I felt at once 
that here was my opportunity. I told my friends 
that I should enter, and began to plan the poem. I 
was talking of the matter at dinner one night, with 
Encombe and the late Lord Warkworth — after- 
wards Earl Percy, who was at that time at Christ- 
church — and I told the latter that I was going in 
for the prize. He said that he, too, was having 
a shot at it, and pointed out that it was impossible 
for me to enter as I was in my fourth year. He 
offered to show me the rule in the Statutes, but, 
unfortunately, we had not a copy handy and I took 



Oxford 19 

it that Warkworth knew what he was talking about 
and let the thing drop. Lord Warkworth won the 
Newdigate that year himself, and it was only after 
the announcement of his success that I discovered 
that there was no such rule as the one he had told 
me of. Of course, I make no aspersion on Wark- 
worth's good intentions in the matter; yet, in a 
sense, it is a pity that I did not look more closely 
into the rules, because, though I say it myself, I 
could have beaten him with a good many lengths 
to spare, and though to have won the Newdigate 
means, perhaps, very little from a literary point 
of view, it appears to be a good backing for a man 
who goes in seriously for poetry. 

I have noticed with some astonishment that 
whenever opportunity has arisen persons who do 
not love me have been at pains to suggest that there 
was something discreditable about my Oxford 
career. It has been hinted that I was "sent down" 
in disgrace, and great capital has been made of the 
circumstance that I left Oxford without a degree. In 
point of fact, I was ''sent down'' in my second year 
for a term because I was ''ploughed" in my exam- 
ination for "smalls," and I soon set this right by 
spending three weeks with a crammer and getting 
myself well posted up in Euclid and such-like sub- 
jects, which, though doubtless very important in 



20 Oscar Wilde and Myself 

their way, had never specially attracted me. When 
the time came for my examination in the Honours 
school I happened to be ill and was unable to attend, 
so that I left the University degreeless. Without 
any suggestion from me, the authorities offered to 
confer an honorary degree upon me if I cared to 
return in the vacation and pass two papers. I con- 
sulted my father, the late Marquis of Queensberry, 
on the subject, and he told me that he had never 
known a degree to be worth twopence to anybody, 
and, accordingly, I never took the trouble to avail 
myself of the Oxford's kind offer. If going dow^n 
without a degree is a crime, I belong to an excellent 
company of criminals, for Swinburne left Oxford 
minus a degree and so did Lord Rosebery and, if it 
comes to genius, so did the poet Shelley. 

I need hardly say that Oscar Wilde expressed 
himself as entirely delighted with my remissness in 
failing to become an M.A. Oxon. He said, in his 
usual airy way, that it was "wonderful" of me and 
a ''distinction," and he pointed out that I should be 
like Swinburne, who determined to remain an 
undergraduate all his life. I am free to confess 
that personally I did not take much interest in the 
matter either way, though, had I understood the 
world then as I understand it now, I might have 
been a trifle less careless. 




OSCAR WILDE 



Oxford 21 

Generally, I do not wish it to be supposed that 
my life at Oxford was any more immaculate than 
that of other young men in my own position in 
life. I came into collision with the authorities on 
various small sins of omission and commission. I 
was gated once for going to the Derby — wicked 
youth that I was! — and I dare say I worried the 
authorities by my persistent refusal to take either 
themselves or the University for the most serious 
thing in nature. But I lived with them gloriously 
and delicately for the full undergraduate span of 
four years, save one term over ''smalls," and, as 
I have shown, they were quite willing to take me 
to their bosom as a full member of the University 
if I had cared to fall into their embrace. 

The idea that Oxford is a place entirely given 
over to the laborious and the assiduous pursuit of 
knowledge is a mistake. It can be proved quite 
easily that, while the assiduous and the laborious 
who choose to make Oxford a sort of career may 
do very well out of it in the way of Fellowships, 
scholastic appointments, and so forth, the best men 
Oxford turns out are, in the main, men who have 
been considered to have missed their opportunities. 
Everybody who was anybody at Oxford in my time 
had a disposition to be very modest about learning 
and a trifle shy about recommending it as the be-all 



22 Oscar Wilde and Myself 

and end-all of life. There is a tale attributed to a 
certain worthy Don — indeed, it is said to have been 
his stock story — which relates to two excellent youths 
of good family who went up to Oxford together. 
One of them was slack and fond of his ease; he 
read nothing and did nothing and, after years of 
dissipation, was fain to get a living by driving a 
hansom-cab. The other youth, the pride of his 
family and college, read everything and won every- 
thing and did everything that was proper. Years 
after, somebody found him in London doing his 
best to keep the wolf from the door by driving a 
four-wheeler. This is an old story, but it is a very 
good one, and anybody who knows Oxford in the 
intimate personal sense knows how true it may well 
be. For myself, I think if it had come to cab-driving 
the hansom would unquestionably have been my 
vehicle. 

I was careless and desultory in the widest sense 
of the terms ; so careless and desultory, in fact, that, 
with a view to saving time and trouble in my inter- 
course with the authorities, I had a form printed as 
follows : — 

Lord Alfred Bruce Douglas presents his 

compliments to 

and regrets that he will be unable to 
in consequence of 



Oxford 23 

Filled up, this ingenious document would read 
as follows: — 

Lord Alfred Bruce Douglas presents his 
compliments to Professor Smith and re- 
grets that he will be unable to show up 
an essay on the Evolution of the Moral , 
Idea in consequence of not having pre- 
pared one. 

I found these missives extremely useful and used 
a great quantity. They were famed throughout the 
University and, though they angered some of the 
Dons to the verge of madness, nothing could be 
done about them, because they were obviously 
polite, and an undergraduate who is polite to his 
pastors and masters has done his duty. It may be 
on the strength of this form and on my being ''sent 
down" for a failure to pass ''smalls" that the legend 
and fiction of my alleged ignominious career at 
Oxford depends. I know of nothing more serious, 
otherwise I should be pleased to unburden myself. 
Both before and after I terminated my undergrad- 
uateship by removing my name from the books of 
Magdalen College, I was a frequent visitor to the 
scene of my old triumphs and kept up many friend- 
ships among the men of my time and among the 
University authorities. I removed my name from 
the books of my own free will and as a matter of 



24 Oscar Wilde and Myself 

personal convenience. What I did may have been a 
trifle unusual, though I am acquainted with at least 
one distinguished Oxford man who did precisely 
the same thing, and that my actions should have 
been twisted into a sort of horrible wickedness must 
have startled a good many other people besides 
myself. 

So much for the gay Lord Alfred Douglas, under- 
graduate of Magdalen College, Oxford. 



CHAPTER II 

LOST ILLUSIONS 

IT is very hard, indeed, wellnigh impossible, for 
me to recapture and set forth for the benefit 
of my readers the secret of the fascination that 
Oscar Wilde had for me in those f ar-ofif days. The 
revelation of his perfidy and vileness which came 
to me when, about a year ago, I first got knowledge 
of the existence of the unpublished portion of ''De 
Profundis," the shock of horror, indignation and 
disgust which the reading of that abominable docu- 
ment produced in my mind, and the ever-recurring 
reflection that during the last few years of his life 
and after his release from prison, when he was pro- 
fessing the greatest friendship and afifection for me 
and living — for a time in part, and ultimately alto- 
gether — on my bounty, he was all the while the 
secret author of a foul and lying attack on me and 
on my family which he had arranged to make pub- 
lic after my death, combine to make the task of 
reconstructing a semblance of my old feeling for 
him almost a hopeless one. Long however before 

25 



26 Oscar Wilde and Myself 

I had cognisance of the unpublished ''De Pro- 
fundis," my view of his character and my estimate 
of his value as a man of letters had undergone a 
profound change. With the passing of the years and 
a more serious and mature outlook on the facts of 
life and on the responsibilities of those who seek 
the suffrages or merely the ears of the general 
reader, I had arrived at the conclusion that Oscar 
Wilde's writings were ridiculously overrated, that 
he was never either a great poet or a great writer 
of prose, and that the harm he had caused to the 
whole body of English literature and the pernicious 
effect he had exercised on the literary movements 
and the journalism of the period immediately suc- 
ceeding his own, very much more than counter- 
balanced the credit of any legitimate success he may 
have achieved. Still, up till the period when the 
discovery of the unpublished part of "De Profun- 
dis'' was forced upon my notice, I carefully re- 
frained from giving voice to these sentiments. The 
man had been my friend, I had been very fond of 
him, and I had formerly had an exaggerated view 
as to the value of his work. I did not therefore 
consider that I was in any way called upon to inter- 
fere with his literary reputation, even though, in 
my opinion, it was a specious reputation and the 
result, moreover, of a cleverly-engineered campaign 



Lost Illusions 27 

on his behalf, made by friends who were more care- 
ful of Wilde's fame than of the general good of 
letters. 

Still less did I conceive it to be any part of my 
duty to attack what was left of his character. On 
the contrary, I steadily persisted in taking the best 
view possible of the man, and until I read the un- 
published ^'De Profundis'' I kept a great measure 
of my affection for his memory and, in common 
with many other people, cherished fond illusions 
about his moral character. That my affection for 
him was real and sincere and continued to be so 
right up to the time when I read the unpublished 
part of "De Prof undis'' is fairly proved by the facts 
that I persistently defended him — even at the cost 
of some violence to my own literary conscience — in 
the columns of the Academy, when I was its editor, 
and that I wrote to his memory one of my best 
sonnets, which I herje reproduce: — 

The Dead Poet 

I dreamed of him last night, I saw his face 
All radiant and unshadowed of distress, 
And as of old, in music measureless, 
I heard his golden voice and marked him trace 
Under the common thing the hidden grace, 
And conjure wonder out of emptiness. 
Till mean things put on beauty like a dress 
And all the world was an enchanted place. 



28 Oscar Wilde and Myself 

And then methought outside a fast locked gate 
I mourned the loss of unrecorded words, 
Forgotten tales and mysteries half said, 
Wonders that might have been articulate. 
And voiceless thoughts like murdered singing birds. 
And so I woke and knew that he was dead. 

Now I wrote that sonnet as long ago as 1901, within 
a few months of Wilde's death, but I included it in 
my 1909 volume of sonnets and, in face of it, I could 
not possibly pretend, even if I wished to do so, that 
I was not at one time deeply attached to him and 
that I continued to cherish his memory after his 
death. But when it comes to explaining that attach- 
ment and reproducing the atmosphere which gen- 
erated it, I find that I am met at the outset by this 
deplorable set-back — namely and to wit: that the 
very qualities in him which then excited my admira- 
tion, now evoke my contempt. It must be remem- 
bered that when I met Wilde I was very young in 
years, and still younger in temperament and in 
experience. I was, in fact, a mere child. I repro- 
duce on the opposite page a photograph of myself, 
taken in my second year at Oxford, just about the 
time I first met Wilde. It is obviously the photo- 
graph of a boy — and a fairly unsophisticated boy, 
at that. There are numbers of my friends and con- 
temporaries at Oxford, now living, and they could 
all bear witness to the fact that even at the age of 



Lost Illusions 29 

twenty-three I had the appearance of a youth of 
sixteen ; and though, of course, I should have been 
woefully offended if any one had told me so at the 
time, there was much in my character that corre- 
sponded with my appearance. I don't think there 
was ever any one so easily deceived, such an obvious 
mark for the designing, as I was in those days. I 
was never allowed to forget that I was Lord Alfred 
Douglas, the son of a marquis and a person of con- 
sequence. The mere fact that I thought myself 
very knowing and a complete man of the world only 
served to make me an easier victim to any accom- 
plished teller of the literary tale. Wilde made a 
dead set at me. He was attracted by my youth, my 
guilelessness, and — to be perfectly frank — by what 
he considered my social importance, and he laid 
himself out to captivate me and to fascinate me. 

He was then about forty years of age ; he was a 
brilliant talker — every one admits that: I have 
never heard it denied, even by his greatest enemy; 
he was utterly unlike any one or anything that 
I had ever come across before, and he had that sort 
of assumption of certainty about all the problems 
of life which is one of the compensations — ex- 
changed for many other better things — that comes 
at that age to an accomplished man of the world. 
He had a habit of enunciating the most entirely 



30 Oscar Wilde and Myself 

unmoral and subversive sentiments in a manner 
and with an air of final authority which could not 
fail to appeal to a high-spirited youth, already in- 
clined — as is the manner of high-spirited youth — 
to kick over the traces. According to him, it didn't 
matter in the least what one did as long as one 
happened to be "a charming and graceful young 
man, related to every one in the peerage," and did 
whatever one wanted to do in "s, charming and 
graceful manner." This "simple and beautiful" 
theory appealed irresistibly to me, as it very well 
might to any thoughtless youth; and, coming as 
it did from one who was actually looked up to and 
admired by the President of my College, and who 
had been commended to my mother as a most de- 
sirable acquaintance for me, it naturally seemed the 
last word of wisdom. But how can I be expected 
now to have anything but contempt for such arts, 
practised by a clever man of the world on an unre- 
flecting boy ? Or how can I be blamed because the 
recollection of the fact that I was, for the time, 
attracted by such preposterous and poisonous spe- 
ciousness is anything else but repugnant to me now 
when I look back on it ? 

In my desperate anxiety to do justice to the mem- 
ory of one who was formerly my friend, I might 





LORD ALFRED DOUGLAS, AT THE AGE OF TWENIY-ONE, 
AT OXFORD 



Lost Illusions 31 

be tempted to give more instances of his method of 
dealing with young men whose good will he was 
anxious to obtain; but by so doing I should add 
nothing to his reputation, even for cleverness. It 
is the easiest thing in the world to turn the head 
of a young fellow at Oxford or Cambridge. Any 
man of the world could do so, if he cared to take 
the trouble and was sufficiently unscrupulous. It 
does not require great wit or great brains or any- 
thing but impudence and a blunted sense of honour. 
These two ''qualities" Wilde undoubtedly possessed. 
It is easy for any one who has not forgotten the 
time of his own youth to see how Wilde contrived 
to attract me. He flattered me incessantly, he pro- 
fessed extreme admiration for the few poetical 
efforts which I had then produced — efforts, by the 
way, which, in his Reading Gaol days, became poor 
^'undergraduate verses" — and whatever I did or 
whatever I said was "wonderful" in his eyes. He 
displayed all the outward signs and symbols of 
friendship and affection. He has himself set them 
all out faithfully, so that I am spared the necessity 
of reproducing them here. I will merely put it on 
record — to give him the whole of the credit that 
can possibly be due to him — that, in the matter of 
sending expensive bunches of muscat grapes and 
copies of the illustrated papers to my bedside when 



32 Oscar Wilde and Myself 

I happened to be ill, promptly replying to requests 
for an immediate despatch of cigarettes when I had 
gone away to the country and forgotten to take 
them with me, and remembering my favourite 
dishes when I happened to dine with him, he was 
''all that a loving heart could wish." I accepted 
these husks for the real bread of friendship, and 
because it has been all through my life my fatal 
habit to idealise my friends and to endow them with 
all sorts of qualities which they never dreamed of 
possessing, I conceived a great and lasting affection 
for this man ; and, when he was in trouble, I fought 
for him and defended him through thick and thin 
and without any regard to rhyme or reason or my 
own interest. Hence these tears! And I am not 
in the least disposed to dispute that I have only 
myself to blame and that it served me very well 
right. ''But this is got by casting pearl to hogs.'' 



CHAPTER III 

WILDE IN SOCIETY 

IN view of the curious anxiety of those who 
support and uphold the Wilde legend, to paint 
him for us as a man of fashion and social 
position, it may be interesting if I try to recall Oscar 
Wilde in his figure as a buck or, as we nowadays 
say, man about town. There can be no doubt what- 
ever that he did really consider himself a person 
of fashion and social standing, outside of his claims 
to literary notoriety. 

In his writings he is very fond of using such 
phrases as ''men of our rank," ''people of our social 
class," and so forth. "Rank" is a good word, and 
Wilde knew perfectly well how to use it in a manner 
which would lead people really to believe that he 
was nobly born. He was able to talk of his mother as 
Lady Wilde, and I have heard him refer to her in 
certain company as "her ladyship" with great efifect. 
You would imagine from his manner that she was 
a grande dame of the first water, with two or three 
large places to her name, and retinues of servants. 

33 



34 Oscar Wilde and Myself 

Of Papa Wilde we did not hear quite so frequently, 
probably for the reason that he was not "his lord- 
ship/' At the same time, Wilde could not have put 
on greater airs than he was sometimes wont to don 
if his father had been a duke. 

Now, with this feeling of "family" about him, 
it is not extraordinary that he should have tried 
to live up to it to the best of his lights. He opined 
that if "a gentleman of rank'' is to be taken for 
a gentleman of rank, he must not only keep his 
rank duly prominent in his conversation, but he 
must also look, dress and, as far as possible, live 
the part. In the matter of looks, Wilde believed 
in his heart that he had the "bulge" of all the 
literary people of his time. Tennyson might wear 
prophetic robes and wideawake hats, Swinburne 
might look the decent little ginger gentleman he was. 
Pater might pass for the profound and beetle- 
browed thinker on the high arts, Bernard Shaw 
might pass for the bewhiskered fire-eater, Arthur 
Symons for the blonde angel, Beardsley for the 
delicate spider-legged artist; but when it came to 
nobility and beauty of features, Wilde was con- 
vinced that he had them all "beaten to a frazzle." 
He was very fond of likening himself to the Roman 
Emperors. He had a big face, which was, as he 
himself put it, "delicately chiselled" ; and if anybody 



Wilde in Society 35 

had asked him to sit for a bust of Nero, he would 
have considered that person most discerning. I 
remember him saying to me that, while it was con- 
sidered among ''the dull English'' to be almost crim- 
inal for a man to speak of good looks, either in him- 
self or in another man, good looks were half the 
battle in society. Of course, I laughed and told him 
not to be a fool ; but he meant it, all the same ; and 
nothing would make him angrier than the hint that 
his mouth was too large or that his face was spoiled 
by too great an expanse of jowl. He took great 
care of his complexion, and I never knew a man 
who brushed his hair more frequently in the day 
than he did. 

He had a defect which was the sorrow of his life 
— the arts of the dentist not being so well under- 
stood then as they are to-day — but on this I do not 
propose to dwell. 

I have been astonished that the published part 
of ''De Profundis'' contains no touching and beauti- 
ful passages relating to clothes ; and this is all the 
more surprising because, in point of fact, Wilde 
was, to a large extent, a tailor's man. I sometimes 
think that if he had lived in the present era of 
Homburg hats and tweed suits he would never have 
been famous at all. He began his notoriety by fan- 
tastic dressing, but as he ascended on the rungs 



36 Oscar Wilde and Myself 

of art to the heaven of rank, his great aim was for 
what he termed "elegant correctness." Hence, the 
Wilde of my time consisted, to a great extent, of 
silk hat, frock coat, striped trousers and patent 
leather boots. Add to these a very tall clouded cane 
with a heavy gold knob and a pair of grey suede 
gloves, and you have the outward man. On the 
whole, I believe that he loathed the get-up, espe- 
cially in the hot weather, but he stuck to it like a 
Trojan, and nobody ever saw Oscar Wilde in Lon- 
don outside of the regulation harness from eleven 
o'clock till seven, or outside of the hard white shirt 
and swallow-tails from seven-thirty till any time 
you like in the morning. 

Being a Roman, he must do as persons of rank 
did in Rome, and he always struck me as being 
garbed in perpetual readiness to walk out or dine 
out with the duke or prince of the blood who would 
one day surely be calling round for him. He had 
a large turquoise set in diamonds, which I had 
purchased for him in an expansive moment when 
we happened to be together in a jeweller's shop. 
The occasion was his birthday and I took him to 
choose his own present. His eye fell on this sea- 
blue bauble in its ring of brilliants, and all question 
of trouble to the shopman was sunk. He wore this 
ornament in his shirt-front of evenings with a truly 



Wilde in Society 37 

regal dignity. For myself, I used to call it ''the 
blue light" or the "Hope-Not" — the Hope diamond 
being at that time very much to the fore in polite 
conversation. 

In the country he naturally subsided into easier 
habiliments; but even here he must follow the 
fashion or be a little bit ahead of it. His suits and 
caps must be all of one piece, his boots as worn by 
''the nobility and gentry" and his general accoutre- 
ments designed subtly to convey the impression that 
he owned at least ten thousand acres somewhere 
or other. 

This bucolic perfection was entirely a social 
affair with him, for he was most coy of being photo- 
graphed otherwise than en grande tenue. In all 
his official photographs, the frock coat, braided for 
preference, or the fur coat, with a suggestion of a 
silk hat on a side table, "bear the gree." 

The very suggestion of "literalism" in the matter 
of appearance horrified him. He desired to pass 
for a gentleman, a "gentleman of rank," and noth- 
ing more. And this he undoubtedly succeeded in 
doing to his own satisfaction. In his intercourse 
with the "highest in the land" — which was, to put 
it plainly, of a very occasional nature — he always 
seemed to me to be a trifle strained and uneasy. He 
longed to smack certain personages on the back, 



38 Oscar Wilde and Myself 

but he never dared to do it. With women he suc- 
ceeded a great deal better than with men. Some- 
how, the men made him either very stiff or very 
Hmp. His bow was wasted upon them and his diffi- 
dent attempts at epigram missed fire. I think that 
women loved him because he would insist that 
everything was ''charming'' or "exquisite/' and be- 
cause, although he was expected to talk brilliantly, 
he really did a great deal of listening. Late in the 
proceedings, when the buffet had done its harmless, 
necessary work, he would open fire and talk amaz- 
ingly, and fifteen to twenty women would hang on 
his words, doubtless because their hostess had told 
them that Mr. Wilde was ''so amusing." But the 
men hung aloof. When he came away Wilde was 
always as eager to know how he had "gone down," 
as a debutante is eager to be informed as to the 
figure she cut at her first ball. If one said: "You 
were great, Oscar," he would glow with honest 
pride; if one hummed a little, he would be in the 
depths for a week. There were women who didn't 
admire him in the least, and some of them were at 
no pains to disguise the fact. Long before the 
tongue of scandal took definite hold of his name, 
there were whispers that there was something 
wrong about him; and when Lady Blank referred 



Wilde in Society 39 

to him in his hearing as '^that fellow," he became 
white with passion and was with difficulty re- 
strained from making a demonstration. 

On the whole, however, his social evenings were 
a source of joy and delight to him, and he would 
talk of this or that party for months after it had 
taken place, with continual notes of gratification 
in his voice. And when, as sometimes happened, 
he went to the houses of persons who were not 
friends of mine, I could make sure of brilliantly 
jewelled accounts of the high jinks and proceed- 
ings, and of the honour which had been rendered 
to him by brave and fair alike. ''Dear Lady 
So-and-So,'' he would say; ''Ah! a charming 
woman, if you like: came down the staircase to 
receive me, for all the world like CEnone coming 
down Ida. And the Prime Minister was there, and 
I don't mind telling you that he glowered at me. 
They hate genius, my boy. And poor old Lord 

1 have never seen him before — looked to me 

like a waiter. Extraordinary that a man of his 
position should look so rusty. However, I need 
not tell you that he was very civil to me.'' And 
when I asked him what he meant by "rusty," he 
said: "Well, he wore such extraordinary clothes." 
The real facts of the case doubtless were that his 
hostess was not beautiful at all, that the Prime 



40 Oscar Wilde and Myself 

Minister had not happened to look his way, and 

that, despite his rusty suit, old Lord had gone 

out of his way to meet rather profuse deference 
with graciousness. 

I don't say that Wilde had no social success, 
but what he had was of that curious kind which 
is here to-day and forgotten to-morrow, and his 
reports of it were always slightly exaggerated. It 
was on such a slender basis that he built up the 
fabric of wonder and splendour with regard to 
"rank" which he afterwards spread out for us in 
Reading gaol. Throughout, he draws a great line 
between "the poor thieves and outcasts with whom 
I now associate" and "people of our rank'' — never 
"people of our intellect," never "people of our cul- 
ture." He tells us that in prison he became a great 
individualist, and apparently it was in prison that 
he became a great aristocrat. 

In one passage in the published "De Profundis" 
he actually uses the words "I had inherited a noble 
name." One need not grudge him these tender illu- 
sions, and, in a way, there is something rather 
pathetic about them. But their encouragement was 
so entirely characteristic of the man that it is 
impossible to avoid a reference to them in a truthful 
portrait. That Wilde did not happen to be nobly 
born is certainly nothing to his discredit; that he 



Wilde in Society 41 

should have persistently pretended to noble birth 
is, on the other hand, fairly contemptible, especially 
as in his efforts to live up to the part he had allotted 
to himself he invariably succeeded in behaving in 
an eminently unaristocratic manner. He lacked a 
kind heart just as surely as he lacked a coronet, and 
Norman blood was as alien to him as simple faith. 



CHAPTER IV 

THE LORD OF LANGUAGE 

I AM not sure that this chapter is headed in 
quite the way that Oscar Wilde's adherents 
would like it to be. When he wished to seem 
particularly important, Wilde was wont to describe 
himself, not only as a Lord of Language, but as the 
King of Life. His claims to these magniloquent 
titles have been suffered to pass unquestioned by his 
critics, and unassailed even by his enemies. The 
coterie of long-haired persons who weep at the men- 
tion of "dear Oscar's'' name and hold him up for a 
saint and a martyr, naturally take pride in his own 
description of himself, and will no doubt consider 
it remiss of me to leave out one of them from this 
chapter heading. The King of Life business has 
always appeared to me to have been settled at the 
Old Bailey, and since such a title as the Lord of 
Language is plainly literary in its bearings, I sup- 
pose I am free to discuss it from the literary point 
of view. And I must state at the outset that I am 
not concerned to deal with Wilde in other than a 
reasonable, critical spirit. If his fame and writings 

42 



The Lord of Language 43 

had been left to themselves instead of becoming 
the subject of attentions on the part of over-zealous 
log-rollers on the one hand and catch-penny scandal- 
mongers on the other, Wilde would, in the nature 
of things, have attained to his proper position in 
literary history and to his proper status as an 
author. As it is, I maintain that the current views 
about his character and his writings are exag- 
gerated and even preposterous — views very far 
ahead of the true facts and, in a large measure, 
opposed to what Wilde himself would have wished. 
Practically everybody nowadays who writes for 
pleasure or for profit about Oscar Fingall OTlaher- 
tie Wills Wilde has taken him for granted as a sort 
of literary and artistic aristocrat who had a natural 
right to the best of life and for whom all beauty 
and delicacy were created. One of the most recent 
of his biographers says: "Wilde provides us with 
the rare spectacle of a man most of whose powers 
are those of a spectator, a connoisseur, a man for 
whom pictures are painted and books written, the 
perfect elaborator for whom the artist hopes in his 
heart." I have never seen a fault of taste, a fault 
of judgment or a fault of intellect attributed to 
him. Even his vices are held up to us as having 
been necessary to the development of his chartered 
and immaculate soul, and as having contributed 



44 Oscar Wilde and Myself 

and been necessary to the perfection of his work. 
Greater bunkum was never propagated. Wilde was 
far from being in any sense a perfervid worshipper 
of the beautiful. To suggest that beauty was all in 
all for him is to suggest what is not true. He was 
never content that other people should write fine 
poetry or fine prose for him to admire, his sole 
ambition being to write fine things himself — ^not 
especially for the fine thing's sake, but for the sake 
of being able to pose as the one great and superior 
person in all the world. It is not to Wilde's dis- 
credit, perhaps, that he praised but little or, as one 
might say, frugally. There was nobody of his time 
who greatly required to be praised. He professed 
the stock admiration for Tennyson, Swinburne, 
Meredith and Pater; but when he expressed it — 
which was seldom — it was always with the reserva- 
tion that of the five he himself was the greatest. 
There were occasions, of course, when he could be 
adulatory, and even obsequious ; but this was either 
to dead men or to those of his contemporaries who 
were engaged in arts with which he was not con- 
cerned as a practitioner. His sonnets to Miss Ellen 
Terry and the late Henry Irving may stand for his 
monument in this special line. As to artists paint- 
ing pictures for him, and so forth, the great quarrel 
of his life was with Whistler, from whom he de- 



The Lord of Language 45 

rived practically everything that he affected to 
know about art and whose work he believed to be 
'Vastly overrated/' Of pictures in their relation 
to beauty he had little or no appreciation. Just as 
the far-famed blue china at Oxford was valuable 
to him because he could make mots over it and get 
himself talked about, so all his views and his ex- 
pressions of opinion with respect to art were not 
the views and opinions of the person who loves and 
knows art, but were designed to illustrate his own 
singularity or superiority, or to support a pose. In 
spite of all he wrote and said on the subject, and in 
spite of all that has been said and written by his 
admirers, there is nothing of Wilde that persists 
in criticism on the art side which is not to be found 
in Whistler's 'Ten o'clock," or which he had not 
gleaned either from his contemporaries or from 
the older writers on the literary side. In order 
to show more clearly what I mean, let us take the 
preface to ''Dorian Gray," which, as is well known, 
consists of a number of aphorisms concerning art 
and criticism as Wilde is supposed to have believed 
in them. I quote some of them: — 

The artist is the creator of beautiful things. 

To reveal art and conceal the artist is art's 
aim. 



46 Oscar Wilde and Myself 

The critic is he who can translate into another 
manner or a new material his impression of 
beautiful things. 
The highest, as the lowest, form of criticism 
is a mode of autobiography. 

Those who find ugly meanings in beautiful things 
are corrupt without being charming. This 
is a fault. 
Those who find beautiful meanings in beauti- 
ful things are the cultivated. For these 
there is hope. 

They are the elect to whom beautiful things mean 
only beauty. 
There is no such thing as a moral or an im- 
moral book. Books are well written or badly 
written. That is all. 

The nineteenth-century dislike of realism is the 
rage of Caliban seeing his own face in a 
glass. 
The nineteenth-century dislike of romanticism 
is the rage of Caliban not seeing his own 
face in a glass. 

The moral life of man forms part of the subject- 
matter of the artist, but the morality of 
art consists in the perfect use of an imperfect 
medium. 



The Lord of Language 47 

No artist desires to prove anything. Even things 
that are true can be proved. 

Thought and language are to the artist instru- 
ments of an art. 
Vice and virtue are to the artist materials for 
an art. 

From the point of view of form, the type of all 
the arts is the art of the musician. From 
the point of view of feeling, the actor's craft 
is the type. 

It is the spectator and not life that art really 
mirrors. 
Diversity of opinion about a work of art shows 

that the work is new, complex and vital. 
When critics disagree the artist is in accord 
with himself. 

We can forgive a man for making a useful thing 
as long as he does not admire it. The only 
excuse for making a useless thing is that 
one admires it intensely. 
All art is quite useless. 

These remarks have been held up to us as Wilde's 
credo, and slight and few though they be, it is the 
fact that they do really epitomise what some people 
call his ''teaching." One has only to glance at 
them, however, to perceive that without exception 



48 Oscar Wilde and Myself 

they are either obvious or perverted truisms or the 
merest glosses on quite hoary critical adages. For 
example, "The artist is the creator of beautiful 
things" must have been said at least a thousand 
times before Wilde suddenly rushed upon the world 
with it as a new and marvellous discovery. "To 
reveal art and conceal the artist is art's aim" is a 
very cheap variant of the saying that language was 
invented to conceal one's thoughts, or Horace's old 
tag: ''Ars est celare artem," "The highest and 
lowest form of criticism is a form of autobiog- 
raphy" is merely to say what was said by Rousseau 
— namely: that all writing is in essence autobio- 
graphical; while "It is the spectator and not life, 
that art really mirrors" is merely Shakespeare's 
"Beauty is in the eye of the beholder," clumsily 
rendered. All the talk about there being no such 
thing as a moral or an immoral book, and about 
art being quite useless, is the merest perversion and 
fiddle-de-dee, as anybody who is not in the last stage 
of idiocy will perceive for himself. 

I maintain that this statement of Wilde — which, 
by the way, did not originally appear as a preface 
to "Dorian Gray," but was painfully and carefully 
compiled when its author was at the height of his 
achievement and wished to pontificate — shows us 
clearly the nature of the man's mind, which was a 



The Lord of Language 49 

shallow and comparatively feeble mind, incapable 
of grappling unaided with even moderately pro- 
found things, and disposed to fribble and antic with 
old thoughts for lack of power to evolve new ones. 
It was a mind which was continually discovering 
with a glow that two and two make four, or pre- 
tending to discover with a much warmer glow that 
two and two make five. In every scrap that he 
wrote, leaving out, of course, the poems, you will 
find this feeble, mediocre, but, withal, vain-glorious 
instrument hard at work on the fearful business of 
saying nothing in such a way that foolish people 
will shout about it. 

Wilde knew himself for a shallow and oblique 
thinker. The fact that he never did anything really 
great has been set down to his indolence. It was 
due really to shallowness rather than indolence. 
When he found that nobody would read his poetry, 
he became most indolent about the writing of 
verses and complained that there was nothing for 
a poet of his eminence to write about. When he 
found that people would listen to lectures written on 
a basis of Whistler and William Morris, he wrote 
and delivered such lectures with an industry worthy 
of the best of causes. And when he found actor- 
managers who would produce money "on account'' 
for such drama as ''Lady Windermere's Fan" and 



50 Oscar Wilde and Myself 

such comedy as ^The Importance of being Ear- 
nest," he wrote plays till the sweat fairly rolled off 
him. But he was conscious, as every unbiassed con- 
temporary critic was conscious, that he ran very 
far short of the achievement of which he was wont 
to plume himself, and he knew that when it came 
to serious things he was always considered more 
or less of a dabbler. 

Like most Irishmen, he was troubled all his life 
with attacks of regret which he was accustomed 
to call remorse. He believed that he had supreme 
gifts and that he had squandered them; he never 
could see that it was impossible that a man who 
pretended, as he pretended, could ever have had 
supreme gifts. His remorse over the squandering 
of these alleged gifts was at times ludicrous to 
behold. He would bemoan his wasted life and come 
very nigh shedding tears about his shallowness at 
two o'clock in the morning ; while at one o'clock the 
same day he would be swallowing ortolans as if 
they were oysters and swearing over some silly 
liqueur that he was the greatest genius that ever 
lived. 

In time, this notion of shallowness became an 
obsession with him. He makes constant use of the 
word "shallow" in his writings, and right through 
'*De Profundis" you find him crying "the supreme 



The Lord of Language 51 

vice is shallowness," in and out of season, and with- 
out the remotest reference to the context. Of 
course, if we endeavour to look into the psychology 
of the situation, we perceive clearly that it was im- 
possible for a man of Wilde's type to do any really 
big work, and he certainly never did do it. His 
claims to be considered as a "Lord of Language'' 
will not bear looking into. He wrote passable verse 
and competent prose, but he wrote no better verse 
and no better prose than several other men of his 
time whose writings are more or less forgotten. 
We have it on the statement of Mr. Justice Darling 
that Wilde could ''conjure with words." I should 
like chapter and verse for any verbal conjuring 
which can be considered worth remembering, or 
which, for that matter, is remembered. I think 
that all Wilde did for the English language was to 
degrade, abuse or make ridiculous such words as 
"exquisite," "wonderful," "charming," "delight- 
ful," "delicate," and so forth. He bored me to 
death at times with his "How perfectly wonderful 
of you!" while his "charming fellows" and "charm- 
ing ladies," "delicious dishes," "exquisite liqueurs" 
and general ecstatics were like sands on the sea 
where the blue wave rolls nightly. He was plagued 
with the Irishman's propensity to muddle his 
"shalls" and "wills," and I found hi him an utter 



52 Oscar Wilde and Myself 

incapacity to understand or appreciate, in the lit- 
erary sense, certain plain English idioms with 
which any man possessed of a feeling for language 
would never have had the slightest trouble. I re- 
member having a lengthy and fearful argument 
with him over Shakespeare's use of the word ''your" 
in such phrases as "your tanner will last you eleven 
years." He.could understand neither the force nor 
the sense of such usages and, though he "tumbled" 
in the end, he was a fearful time about it. One does 
not expect such dullness in a Lord of Language. 



CHAPTER V 

OUR MUTUAL FRIENDS 

ACCORDING to the Ransome book— the 
biographical details in which, its author 
- admits, have been checked by Mr. Robert 
Ross — Oscar Wilde was the son of William Wilde, 
''knighted in 1864, a celebrated oculist and aurist, 
a man of great intellectuality and uncertain temper, 
a runner after girls, with a lusty enjoyment of life, 
and a delight in falling stars and thunderstorms/' 
This is an ingenious way of presenting a de- 
cidedly dubious and unpleasing character to an awe- 
stricken world. Wilde's father was certainly a 
knight; but heaven alone knows who his grand- 
father was. It is also to be noted that while Sir 
William Wilde may have died "a celebrated oculist 
and aurist," he began life as an apothecary, and for 
years kept a chemist's shop in an obscure part of 
Dublin. The ''runner after girls" admission on 
the part of Messrs. Ransome and Ross is also very 
touching, seeing that William Wilde had once been 
prosecuted for insulting a lady patient and that 

53 



54 Oscar Wilde and Myself 

everybody knows the story of Wilde's father and 
the witty veterinary surgeon who ralHed him on the 
subject with one of the sharpest bits of sarcasm 
that ever fell from a man's mouth. 

It is perhaps necessary for me to say here that 
I have never in my life laid any great stress upon 
the advantages of birth. If a man's manners and 
disposition are all right, I am not greatly concerned 
to know that his father drove pigs or got locked 
up for stealing spoons. At the same time, I have 
never been able to repress feelings of amused con- 
tempt for that numerous body of persons who, hav- 
ing no ancestry or forbears to speak of, make a 
point of proclaiming themselves to be persons of 
family, and invent all manner of legends to support 
their supposed exalted birth. 

In the case of Wilde, it is due to him to say that 
he kept his parentage and extraction fairly in the 
background so far as I was concerned. He ad- 
mitted that he belonged to the Irish middle classes 
and prided himself on having risen to academic 
honour, not with the help of money, but by sheer 
force of intellect. This was in the early days of 
our acquaintance. Ultimately, when he had man- 
aged to get out of the rut of bohemianism and to 
find his way into respectable society, he began to 
conceive himself in the light of a very great social 



Our Mutual Friends 55 

figure, and it was easy for him to suppose that he 
was a born member of the aristocracy and that all 
his people belonged to what Burke, I believe, calls 
'The titled landed and official classes." I used to 
smile at these pretensions and joke with him about 
them ; and he would admit that he was foolish. But 
the fact remains that to the end of his life he kept 
up the legend of his high birth and connections, and 
was eager always to pass himself off as a great 
gentleman. 

His biographers have taken up the wondrous tale 
and, without saying so in as many words, they lead 
the polite world of Wilde worshippers to believe 
that their saint was what the young lady called "a 
gentleman in his own right." The Wildes ''were 
people of consideration in Dublin," says the zealous 
Mr. Ransome: "his school- fellows did not have to 
ask Wilde who his father was." Well, possibly they 
didn't — for very different reasons than those Mr. 
Ransome would have us conjure up. Down to the 
time of my first meeting Wilde, he had never had 
any real footing in society and, though he fought 
for it desperately during the period of our friend- 
ship, I doubt if he ever really got it. He was too 
obviously the tuft-hunter and the snob ever to be 
liked by the people for whose acquaintance he 
sighed. I never could see why a man of his talents 



56 Oscar Wilde and Myself 

and mode of life should have been so desperately 
anxious to be "hail fellow well met" with some of 
the dullest and silliest people in the world ; but there 
can be no doubt that he dearly loved a lord and 
would put up with a great deal of pain and incon- 
venience on the mere chance of a casual word or 
two with a duchess. When our acquaintance began 
he knew nobody, and, though his name was in the 
papers and his picture turned up from time to time 
in Punch, you never saw him at the places where he 
would have given his soul to be. He told me that 
at Magdalen he had managed to get on terms with 
an unmarried duke, but before this beam of sun- 
shine had shone upon him for a year or two, the 
duke incontinently married and the duchess inter- 
vened and put an end to the intimacy. 

Wilde's own set of friends and acquaintances 
struck one as being a peculiar assemblage; but he 
assured me that they were great and charming 
people and that they were all on the high road to 
eminence and fame ; and, being young and unversed 
in the world's ways, I took him at his word and set 
down my incapacity to appreciate his immediate 
entourage to my own dullness and lack of pers- 
picacity. The first stars in the firmament of charm- 
ing fellows and world-compelling geniuses brought 
to me by Wilde were Mr. Robert Ross and Mr. 




33 
o 



g 2 

m 

H 
-*! 
O 



Our Mutual Friends 57 

Reggie Turner. According to the allegations 
brought against me at the Ransome trial, when 
Wilde entertained these gentlemen at dinner he did 
it in Soho and with the help of a shilling bottle of 
Medoc ; whereas when I, Lord Alfred Douglas, was 
his guest, it was always at Willis's rooms and to 
the accompaniment of specially imported pates 
from Strasbourg and priceless champagnes. In 
point of fact, all four of us drank a good many 
humble whiskies and sodas at the Cafe Royal and 
dined and lunched at the same place without any 
great effusions of money on anybody's part. Wilde 
was a doughty and assiduous trencherman. I would 
have backed him to eat the head off a brewer's dray- 
man three times a day, and his capacity for whisky 
and soda knew no bounds. The marvel of it was 
that he never became really drunk, though from 
four o'clock in the afternoon till three in the morn- 
ing he was never really sober. The more he drank 
the more he talked, and without whisky he could 
neither talk nor write. 

After Messrs. Ross and Turner, Wilde brought 
along the late Ernest Dowson, who, for some reason 
or other, seemed scared out of his wits; Mr. Max 
Beerbohm, who giggled prettily at everything either 
Wilde or I said; and Mr. Frank Harris, who wore 
the same costly furs and roared in the same sucking- 



58 Oscar Wilde and Myself 

dove way as still continues to delight his troops of 
friends. They were a merry and, I am afraid, a 
rather careless company. They talked art, poetry 
and politics ; none of them seemed to have much to 
do, though I believe all of them were fairly busy 
men and, on the whole, they were pleasant enough 
people to meet. 

Gradually, however, the acquaintance between 
myself and Wilde began to strengthen and become 
more intimate. I took him to my mother's place 
near Ascot and introduced him to a good many 
people whom he considered to be important. He 
met my cousin, George Wyndham, who, I believe, 
asked him down afterwards to Clouds, and, at his 
very special request, I introduced him to my 
brother. Viscount Drumlanrig, at that time a Lord- 
in- Waiting to Queen Victoria. No two men could 
have less in common than Drumlanrig and Wilde. 
On one hand you had a soldier and a sportsman, 
with perhaps a bit of the courtier thrown in; on 
the other hand you had the overdressed Bohemian, 
with his hair nicely parted and very anxious to be 
friendly and charming. My brother was amused 
and, though they did not meet more than three 
times, it was years before Wilde ceased to talk 
pompously of "my friend. Lord Drumlanrig, Lord- 
in-Waiting to Her Majesty." I also introduced 



Our Mutual Friends 59 

him to my grandfather, Mr. Alfred Montgomery, 
who took a violent and invincible dislike to him 
and declined to meet him again. 

In addition to the people I have mentioned, Wilde 
always had on hand a sort of job line of weird and 
wonderful acquaintances whose names were for 
ever on his lips and whose possessions — intellectual 
and otherwise — were supposed to be fabulous. He 
would come a few minutes late for lunch and beg 
to be excused for unpunctuality. "The fact of the 
matter is," he would say, "I have spent a most de- 
lightful morning with my dear friend, Mr. Balsam 
Bassy — a charming fellow with a face like a Michel 
Angelo drawing and a mind like Benvenuto Cellini. 
I would have brought him in to lunch — he is dying 
to make your acquaintance — but he has to go down 
to his uncle's place in Devonshire and couldn't miss 
the two-fifty on any account." There would fol- 
low a long and highly elaborate statement of Mr. 
Balsam Bassy's many gifts, graces and accomplish- 
ments, his wonderful powers of conversation, the 
exquisite mots he perpetrated, and the charming 
poetry that he could write if he would only take 
the trouble to live his own life instead of frivolling 
it away in the highest circles. Wilde had, to my 
knowledge, at least half a dozen ''Balsam Bassys" 
going at one time and, though I only saw one of 



60 Oscar Wilde and Myself 

them in the flesh, I believe they were real persons, 
and that Wilde believed all he had invented about 
them. The solitary ''Balsam Bassy" he produced 
on an occasion when he could not help himself, 
as the man sailed right into us at supper, turned 
out to be a very mild and inoffensive gentleman 
who possessed an allowance of two hundred and 
fifty pounds a year from his uncle, a brewer, but 
with no more talent — let alone genius — than a box 
of matches. When I observed to Wilde that this 
particular Mr. Balsam Bassy did not seem quite 
to come up to expectations, he became very angry 
and said that the fact that Mr. Balsam Bassy was 
his friend was a sufficient passport for him to any 
society. I said that I thought it was, and there 
the matter dropped. 

The large number of persons of eminence whom 
Wilde knew in a casual way would, of course, make 
a long list, but of his friends and intimates — the 
people who, so to say, gyrated immediately around 
him — I have given a full account. It should be 
added that Wilde knew Beardsley, whom he was 
disposed to patronise, and Mr. George Bernard 
Shaw, who was then a writer on the Star. Of Shaw 
he had a high opinion and prophesied for him a 
future in a walk of life far other than the one in 
which he has succeeded. Probably if he had never 



Our Mutual Friends 61 

known Shaw he would never have written the ''Soul 
of Man." While Shaw's socialism was a very much 
redder and more blatant affair in those days than 
it is now, it attracted Wilde because it was odd and 
Shaw was Irish. Though a mild Liberal by pre- 
tension, Wilde was always a rebel in his heart. 
''Down with everything that's up and up with 
everything that's down" was his intellectual motto. 
If he had not met Shaw he would probably have 
kept his views about the social order of things to 
himself. Shaw helped him to a species of socialism 
which looks very revolutionary but which is really 
designed to benefit the rich rather than the poor. 
Like pretty well everything else that Wilde wrote, 
"The Soul of Man under Socialism" fails entirely 
when you come to look into it. It is neither fish, 
flesh, fowl nor good red herring, and its main argu- 
ment — namely, that human beings will never be 
happy tiir they have got rid of altruism — is, of 
course, the obvious reverse of the truth. 

It may be that the account I have given of Wilde's 
circle will come with a shock of disappointment to 
those who have been accustomed to the Ross- 
Ransome-Sherard versions as to his mode of life. 
The absence of distinguished names is certainly 
conspicuous. But as I am writing the truth and 
not a fairy story, I am compelled to stick to the 



62 Oscar Wilde and Myself 

actual facts, which are that Wilde, during all the 
time I knew him, was not on terms of anything like 
intimacy with any of the distinguished people of 
his day. He was continually talking of his various 
eminent contemporaries as if he were on terms of 
friendship with them; he constantly referred to 
Edward Burne- Jones, to William Morris, to Ruskin, 
to Meredith, to Tennyson, Swinburne, Browning 
and the rest; and he referred to them always as if 
he had at one time been most friendly with them. 
Whether this were or were not the case I have no 
means of settling authoritatively : I can only speak 
of the period of his life during which I knew him 
and was continually in his society — namely, from 
the year 1892 to the time of his death — and I say 
positively that during the whole of that time he 
never had the slightest intercourse with any of the 
persons mentioned. I believe Wilde had at one time 
a slight acquaintance with Burne- Jones ; but on two 
occasions when I myself met the latter at Clouds, 
the country house of my uncle, the late Mr. Percy 
Wyndham, I never heard him mention Wilde's 
name. I believe he knew Ruskin at Oxford, but 
only in the way in which any undergraduate could 
know him if he wished to do so. Browning he had 
met once or twice, and the same applies to Meredith. 
I do not believe that he ever saw or, at any rate. 



Our Mutual Friends 63 

spoke either to Tennyson or Swinburne. Yet to 
hear him talk of all these people one would have 
supposed that he was a regular member of their 
circle. When I was with Wilde, before his down- 
fall and imprisonment I accepted all he told me 
as to his friendship with the intellectual giants of 
his time as gospel truth, and it was not till long 
afterwards that it struck me as curious that we 
never came across any of these celebrities; that 
Wilde was never able to get one of them to come 
to his house, and never by any chance went to see 
them at theirs. 

A good example of Wilde's pushfulness in this 
line of pretended intimacy with celebrated people 
is furnished by the terms of his dedication of one 
of his plays : 'To the dear memory of Robert, Earl 
of Lytton.'' I have it on the authority of Mr. 
Neville Lytton, the younger son of the late Lord 
Lytton, that his father scarcely knew Wilde, and 
had only met him on one or two occasions, and that 
he might or might not have been flattered by 
Wilde's dedication. The same applies to his sup- 
posed French acquaintance. According to Wilde's 
own account, he knew everybody in France who was 
worth knowing, but, as a fact, he had only the 
very slightest knowledge of a few of them, derived 
from meeting them once or twice at luncheon or 



64 Oscar Wilde and Myself 

dinner-parties at the time he wrote his play 
^'Salome." This question is settled by the articles 
which have appeared on the subject in France by 
M. Henri de Regnier and the Vicomte d'Humieres. 
After he left prison, of course nobody knew him, 
but at the very height of his fame and success the 
facts were as I have stated. The same applies to 
social as opposed to literary and artistic lights. 
When I was twenty-three years of age I was elected 
to an institution called the Crabbet Club, which had 
been founded by my cousin, Mr. Wilfrid Blunt. 
The club met once a year at Mr. Wilfrid Blunt's 
country house, Crabbet Park, for the purpose of 
playing lawn-tennis and reading poems composed 
by the members of the club for a prize. Among the 
members of the club were George Curzon — now 
Lord Curzon of Kedlestone — George Wyndham, 
George Leveson-Gower — then Comptroller of the 
Queen's Household: the 'Trinity of Georges," as 
some one called them in a prize poem ; Lord Hough- 
ton, now Lord Crewe, Mr. Harry Cust, Mr. God- 
frey Webb, Mr. Mark Napier, the late Lord Cairns, 
Mr. ''Lulu" Harcourt and a lot more. Mr. Blunt 
had made Oscar Wilde a member of this club, and 
Wilde attended one meeting. It was the custom 
that any new member should be proposed in a 
speech at dinner on the first night of the meeting 



Our Mutual Friends 65 

and opposed by some one else. Wilde was opposed 
by George Curzon, who attacked him in a brilliant, 
humorous, witty but deadly speech in such a very 
scathing way that he never could be induced to go to 
another meeting of the Club. As an undoubted mem- 
ber of this club he certainly could claim to know the 
other members, and he actually passed one Satur- 
day to Monday at Crabbet in their company. He 
never forgot it, and never forgot to refer to them 
by their Christian names ever afterwards ; but none 
of them ever came to Wilde's house or asked him 
to his, with the solitary exception of George Wynd- 
ham, under circumstances which I have already de- 
tailed. On the only occasion on which I attended 
a meeting of the Crabbet Club I was proposed by 
George Wyndham and opposed in a friendly way 
by Hubert Howard, who was afterwards killed at 
the battle of Omdurman. The Crabbet Club was 
only a club in name. There was no subscription and 
no entrance fee, and admittance to it was simply by 
invitation of Mr. Blunt, who used the annual occa- 
sion of the meeting of the club as a pretext for a 
charming and most lavish hospitality. I was ac- 
tually the last member to join it, and the year I 
joined was the last year of its existence. One of 
the rules of the club was that Prime Ministers, 
Bishops, and Viceroys were not eligible for mem- 



66 Oscar Wilde and Myself 

bership, and that any member found guilty of 
attaining such positions should be at once expelled. 
Nothing was said about convicts, but when two 
of the members (Lord Curzon and Lord Hough- 
ton) became Viceroys, and one (Oscar Wilde) was 
sent to prison, Mr. Blunt came to the conclusion 
that the Crabbet Club had better be wound up; 
and it lives now only as a glorious memory and by 
virtue of a privately printed volume of prize and 
other poems, mostly of a satirical nature, which 
would make the fortune of a dealer in rare books 
if he could get hold of a copy. I may be excused 
for mentioning with pride that I won the lawn- 
tennis tournament of my year, and divided the 
honours of the Prize Poem with the late Mr. God- 
frey Webb, known as "Webber'' to his numerous 
friends. To be strictly accurate, Mr. Godfrey 
Webb was declared the laureate of the year, and 
invested with the laurel wreath, while a special 
prize was awarded to me for my poem. It was a 
beautifully bound edition of Surrey's and Wyatt's 
sonnets, and I regret to say that I left it behind me 
at Naples, along with a great many other valuable 
and interesting books, in the charge of Oscar Wilde 
when I handed over my villa to him. All these 
books Wilde sold or lost soon after I left Naples. 



Our Mutual Friends 67 

The prize for the Lawn Tennis Tournament I still 
have in my possession. It is a handsome silver cup 
of the Georgian period, and is inscribed as follows : 

'Tn Youth and Crabbed Age." 

Crabbet Club, 

1894. 



CHAPTER VI 

LORD QUEENSBERRY INTERVENES 

IN 1895 my friendship with Oscar Wilde had 
ripened into an intimacy which was an 
affair for the gossips. We were inseparable : 
wherever Wilde went I went, and wherever I went 
Wilde went. I was living at my mother's house 
in Cadogan Place, and Wilde at his house in Tite 
Street. We lunched and dined usually at the Cafe 
Royal or at the Savoy ; we visited the theatres and 
music-halls of an evening, and we often wound 
up the day with supper at Willis's rooms. I had 
left Oxford and my time was my own. Money did 
not trouble me much in those days. My father 
allowed me three hundred and fifty pounds a year 
for pocket money; the necessaries and luxuries of 
life were always at my disposal at home and in 
the houses of my numerous friends and relatives; 
and whenever I wanted money I had merely to 
ask my mother or my indulgent Grandfather Mont- 
gomery for it. One way or another, I dare say I 
was living at the rate of at least fifteen hundred a 

68 




OSCAR WILDE'S HOUSE, 16 TITE STREET, CHELSEA 



Lord Queensberry Intervenes 69 

year. Wilde was an expensive sort of friend, par- 
ticularly after he began to consider himself a 
gourmet and a man of the great world. He gave 
fairly expensive entertainments, and although a 
chop and a pint of bitter beer at some respectable 
inn would always have done for me, I never pro- 
fessed to be insensible to the charms of good cook- 
ing, and when it came to ordering and paying for 
a dinner for my friends I was certainly not to be 
outdone by Wilde. At the Ransome trial, among 
the charges brought against me on the strength 
of the precious document which Mr. Ross has 
handed to the British Museum, was that of extrava- 
gance, in respect of which I had to meet Wilde's 
stories of the long-departed menus of some of our 
Lucullian feasts. It was suggested that we lived 
on nothing but "delicious ortolans" — by the way, 
are there any ortolans that are not delicious ? — and 
foie gras from Strasbourg, which we made a point 
of washing down with Perrier Jouet and topped 
off with fifty-year-old brandy. Of course, I do not 
profess to remember what I had for dinner twenty 
years ago ; but any man about town knows that one 
can dine very comfortably for a sovereign, and I 
happen to remember that Wilde always considered 
a sovereign quite a good deal of money. It was 
further suggested that between the autumn of 1892 



70 Oscar Wilde and Myself 

and the date of his imprisonment — that is to say, in 
less than three years — Wilde spent with me and on 
me more than five thousand pounds in actual money, 
irrespective of the bills he incurred. But in plain 
terms this means that he spent at least forty pounds 
a week in entertaining me. So that for three years 
I must have been eating three meals a day and 
twenty-one meals a week, at a cost and charge of 
two pounds a meal, with Oscar Wilde. I cannot 
have disbursed a penny on myself or on him and, at 
the end of the three years, I ought to have had a 
thousand or two in the bank and a stone or two of 
flesh to spare. In point of fact, even in those early 
days I spent a great deal more money on Wilde than 
he spent on me, and my weight has stood at less 
than ten stone five ever since I can remember, which, 
for a man of my height, does not point to much 
gourmandising. It is a pretty thing that any 
gentleman should be compelled to go into such mat- 
ters, but as the world has already been told and 
is to be told again in 1960 that I got through five 
thousand pounds' worth of Wilde's ortolans and 
Perrier Jouet in three years, I here and now venture 
to tell the world that I did nothing of the kind. In 
the three years in question, it is exceedingly doubt- 
ful whether Wilde ever had five thousand pounds 
at his disposal. He had developed expensive tastes 



Lord Queensberry Intervenes 71 

in many other directions besides food and drink: 
he dressed expensively, he wore expensive jewel- 
lery, he made presents of jewellery and money to 
all sorts of ridiculous people; the upkeep of his 
house in Tite Street must have run him into at 
least a thousand a year; he travelled a good deal 
and made expensive stays in Paris, at Homburg 
and in Italy; and, not to put too fine a point on it, 
he was continually short of money. On several 
occasions I borrowed money from moneylenders 
at his suggestion and instigation, and he invariably 
helped himself liberally, not only to these sums but 
to sums of money which I obtained from my mother 
and from my other relatives. Indeed, so far as my 
money was concerned, we had a common purse. It 
never occurred to me to refuse him anything. 
Nothing was too good for him, and I always re- 
garded him as a man who, although he might have 
spurts of money, was without proper income and 
resources, and was consequently to be helped out 
whenever occasion demanded. To take an instance 
in point: just before "The Woman of no Impor- 
tance" was put on at the Haymarket I went to a 
moneylender and borrowed two hundred and fifty 
pounds. At lunch I showed Wilde the money in ten- 
pound notes, and he took them into his hand and said : 
*'How beautiful they are and how wonderful it is of 



72 Oscar Wilde and Myself 

you to be able to get them." Then, with a laugh, he 
put five or six of them into his own pocket and 
handed me the balance. I thought no more about 
it at the moment than I should have thought of 
sharing a bottle of wine with him. Indeed, I got 
the money with the intention of giving him some 
of it because he had been groaning for over a week 
about his hard-upness. This is only one instance of 
many. All my life I have been free-handed and 
careless about money. I was well over thirty years 
of age before it dawned upon me that money did 
not grow on the trees on the family estate. There 
are plenty of people who are now living who know 
me well, and I should like to hear one of them who 
would tell me that I am ''thrifty" or that I permit 
my friends to pay out of their turn. It is true that 
Wilde and I were for a long period on terms of 
friendship which were quite outside and beyond the 
"you-ask-me-to-dinner-and - 1 - ask-you-back- again" 
principle; but it is grotesquely untrue to suggest 
that he wasted any appreciable part of his sub- 
stance upon me. Wilde had a great way of making 
everything appear important. He was very fond 
of sending for the managers of restaurants to 
consult them over the merits of wine or to bid 
them summon the chef to receive instruction or 
compliment, as the case might be. These were not 



Lord Queensberry Intervenes 73 

practices of mine, and never have been. Up to the 
time of my meeting Oscar Wilde, I had been accus- 
tomed to live at great houses, and the best food and 
the best drink were the only sort I knew about. It 
never occurred to me that Wilde's "exquisite'' 
spreads were anything out of the ordinary. I sup- 
pose the cooking at the Cafe Royal or at the Savoy 
Hotel is good, but it is certainly, to say the least, 
no better than what one gets in a good house or at 
a good club. Wilde made fusses and went through 
elaborate rituals over the ordering of his meals. 
I, for my part, ordered, ate and paid for them, and 
thought nothing further about it. 

As I have said, our constant appearances to- 
gether at cafes, restaurants, theatres and public 
places set the gossips wagging their tongues. I 
heard all sorts of rumours which were silly on the 
face of them and which were a good deal sillier 
when one thought about them. Naturally, I 
ignored them utterly. I am convinced that some 
of the whispers and hints that went around were 
set going by persons who deemed that I had sup- 
planted them in Wilde's good graces and who were 
annoyed because, while he still continued to know 
them, he ceased, in a great measure, to frequent 
their company. In any case, I was made to feel 
that certain people were very sore about my 



74 Oscar Wilde and Myself 

''monopolising Wilde/' Egged on doubtless by 
what she heard, even Mrs. Wilde — with whom I 
always had been on the most friendly terms — 
began to say that I took up a great deal too much 
of Oscar's time, and Wilde once told me that she 
had made difficulties about our being so much to- 
gether. I told him that we certainly did seem to 
be always together, and I offered to go away and 
leave him to his own devices; but he said that 
this would be unbearable to him and that he had 
made Mrs. Wilde understand and that he had men- 
tioned the matter to me in the idlest way and with- 
out any notion that I should be so foolish as to take 
him seriously. So our lives drifted along as usual. 
I may here mention that for the first three years 
of my close intimacy with Oscar Wilde I never 
heard a coarse or indelicate allusion come out of 
his mouth. I knew him for a somewhat cynical and 
insincere kind of humourist; I was not blind to his 
faults of vanity and his occasional lapses into vul- 
gar manners ; I knew he was no saint, even as men 
of the world go; but I considered that he was a 
man of decent life, and I never heard from him a 
word or a sign which made me think otherwise. 
He treated me always with the greatest and, I may 
even say, the most elaborate courtesy, and I noticed 
particularly that when we were in the society of 



Lord Queensberry Intervenes 75 

men who were apt to kick somewhat over the traces 
and indulge in Rabelaisian conversation Wilde was 
eagerly careful to turn or suppress the talk. He 
therefore seemed to be all that a man should be; 
and when I heard on one or two occasions certain 
other hints of tendencies of his, I repudiated them 
with indignation, believing that, as I was his close 
friend, I knew him through and through, and feel- 
ing that there could not possibly be any truth in 
what was suggested. 

Some years before I met Wilde my mother had 
found it desirable to divorce my father, and at the 
time to which I am now referring the family rela- 
tionships were not exactly running smooth. To 
be quite frank, I had conceived feelings of resent- 
ment against my father on account of his treatment 
of my mother which I am afraid were far from 
filial. You may judge, then, of my anger when 
Wilde one day told me that Lord Queensberry had 
sent him a letter in which he requested Wilde to 
terminate his friendship with me at once, inasmuch 
as he did not think it would be beneficial to me. 
Wilde asked me what he should do, and I told him 
to take no notice of the letter. Later, my father 
sent me a letter in which he told me what he had 
said to Wilde, and threatened to cut ofif my allow- 
ance if I did not at once terminate the acquaintance. 



76 Oscar Wilde and Myself 

I was not aware of any grounds upon which Lord 
Queensberry could make such a request, and con- 
cluded that he had written to me for the mere pur- 
pose of annoyance and because he knew that I had 
taken sides with my mother since the divorce pro- 
ceedings. Consequently, I sent him a fairly sting- 
ing reply, and a heated correspondence followed. 
Portions of that correspondence have been pre- 
served in glass cases by careful lawyers, and these 
relics of an unpleasant feud have been brought up 
against me in various cross-examinations with a 
view to proving that I was an unfilial brute and that 
I treated my own father very badly. 

In the light of what has happened since, I know 
that I was hasty and mistaken, but one cannot be 
the son of the eighth Marquis of Queensberry nor 
a member of the family of Douglas without having 
the defects of one's qualities. I did not sit down 
to the abuse of my father in the manner of a person 
without spirit for the very simple reason that I am 
not devoid of spirit and never shall be. However, 
before he died my father sent for me and there was 
a complete reconciliation between us, and he left 
me every shilling that could possibly be arranged 
for me out of his very considerable estate. 

Failing to make disruption between myself and 
Wilde, Lord Queensberry adopted a different line 



«-*-*' 




^ 


CLOUDS. 


»<»*" 


EASTKNOYLe. 


'y* 


SALISBURY, 



ZS-. 'V. 'f> 



^, .^ -^- ^-^ "^^ 



v^ Aa.^>^ ^^---^^ 



u"Ljz.,^ ^^* A.^^^^^'f.j!^^/ ^ 



<^ 



luJ^M^ ,uJ^^cJ< ^i-^^cM c^ yv^ 



Lord Queensberry Intervenes 81 

of tactics; and, I believe, with the sincere view of 
saving me from what he knew was an undesirable 
entanglement, he went ahead to disgrace Wilde 
publicly. At a theatre where one of Wilde's plays 
was running he caused a bouquet of carrots to be 
handed up to Wilde over the footlights, and he left 
his card on him at his club with certain odious 
remarks written on the back of it. I need scarcely 
say that Wilde was very much distressed. He came 
to me in a great state about it and said that it was 
most wicked and cruel of my father to treat him 
in this way and that, unless an immediate apology 
was forthcoming, he would have no alternative but 
to prosecute Lord Queensberry for criminal libel. 
I was a little bit nettled at the tone he took, as he 
seemed to imply by his air that I was in some 
way to blame for what had happened; and I said 
at once: ''You are not in the least likely to get 
apologies from my father and, so far as I am con- 
cerned, you can prosecute and be blowed!" 

It has been widely asserted that I went out of 
my way to instigate these proceedings against my 
father. It is quite certain that I did not go on 
my bended knees to ask Wilde not to take pro- 
ceedings. He assured me that the suggestions and 
accusation against him were quite false and without 
foundation. I had not the smallest reason to sup- 



82 Oscar Wilde and Myself 

pose that he was lying to me, and I undoubtedly 
allowed matters to take their course. I will go 
further, and say that in a sense I was not sorry 
that Lord Queensberry should be brought to book 
for what I considered to be his very bad treatment 
of both myself and Wilde. I went with Wilde, at 
his request, to see a lawyer on the subject. This 
lawyer had been recommended to him by Robert 
Ross, who also accompanied us on this occasion. 
He advised proceedings, and we went to Bow Street 
and procured a warrant for my father's arrest. On 
the morning the warrant was executed Wilde came 
to me in a condition bordering on hysteria, told 
me that he had no money and that at least three 
hundred pounds were required in order that the 
case might go on. At his urgent solicitation, I 
gave him three hundred and sixty pounds to give 
to his solicitor. (The figures appear in my bank- 
book and were proved at the Ransome trial. ) This, 
I am told, was most unnatural conduct. Wilde, for 
his part, pointed out that it was entirely through his 
friendship for me that he had to sufifer Lord 
Queensberry's insults, and that unless he went on 
with the prosecution he would be branded through- 
out Europe for a person of vicious and abominable 
life; and that, as I had been the means of getting 
him into the trouble, it would be a poor thing if 



Lord Queensberry Intervenes 83 

I would not find a few hundreds to get him out 
again. What was I to do — and what would any 
man so placed have done? I should have liked 
to have quoted verbatim Wilde's version of this 
episode as it was put to me at the Ransome trial; 
but since the manuscript of this book was completed 
Mr. Robert Ross has obtained an injunction against 
me, by which I am precluded from quoting any part 
of the unpublished ''De Profundis'' manuscript. 
This unpublished part has been used against me in 
the most frightful manner. Venomous passages 
have been read in open court and reproduced in 
hundreds of newspapers, and yet I understand I 
am debarred from quoting from it for the purpose 
of replying to it and pointing out its obvious falsity. 
It is unnecessary for me to enlarge on the absolute 
negation of every principle of justice and common 
sense which is involved in such a decision : it is too 
obvious for that. I do not say that such decision 
may not be a correct interpretation of the law as it 
exists, though it is hard to believe it. What I do 
say is that the existence of such a law is a disgrace 
and a danger to the community, for it is obvious 
that under its provisions any man can foully slander 
another and so arrange his slander that reply to it 
becomes impossible during the lifetime of the slan- 
dered. For example, there is nothing to prevent 



84 Oscar Wilde and Myself 

me from writing a long letter, say, to Mr. Justice 
Astbury — the judge who granted Mr. Ross the 
interim injunction restraining me from quoting 
passages from the unpublished "De Profundis." I 
can, if I please, accuse him in this letter of every 
sort of crime and impute to him every kind of base- 
ness ; I can attack his parents and his relations and 
I can ascribe to him imaginary words alleged to 
have been spoken by him, and I can invent imag- 
inary scenes in which I allege that he has taken 
part. All I have to do is to hand this letter to a 
friend and give him instructions that after my 
death it is to be placed in the British Museum and 
kept there till such time as the friend may think 
fitting to bring it out and publish it. If Mr. Justice 
Astbury should happen to outlive me, and if he 
should thereupon by some chance get knowledge of 
the fact that a long epistle addressed to him and 
containing a violent attack on his character is lying 
in the British Museum and is to be published in fifty 
years' time, he will be powerless to take the smallest 
step to prevent the publication of this posthumous 
libel, and he will not even be able to defend himself 
against the accusations it contains. The copyright 
in the manuscript will be the property of my heirs 
and executors, and should Mr. Justice Astbury 
propose to quote any part of it with a view to show- 



Lord Queensberry Intervenes 85 

ing its scandalous and ridiculous falsity he will im- 
mediately be pulled up by the law of copyright. My 
slanderous and shameful letter will be a valuable 
literary property; for Mr. Justice Astbury to quote 
passages from it would be injurious to its market 
value. In vain he would protest that he was surely 
entitled to defend himself against an attack made 
on him by a dead man and designed to be made 
public to the world after his own death. He would 
simply be told that ''the law is quite clear/' and 
he would have to grin and bear it as well as he 
could, just as I have to do under precisely similar 
circumstances. What I can, at any rate, legiti- 
mately do — even within the narrow compass which 
Mr. Justice Astbury's interpretation of the law 
allows me — is to set out the true facts connected 
with this period of Wilde's career and my own con- 
nection with it. 

I desire firstly to state emphatically that I did 
not force Wilde into taking proceedings against 
my father. The matter can be summed up in a 
few sentences. My father had accused Wilde of 
certain abominations. These accusations it seems 
were true. Wilde denied the truth of them to me 
and proceeded to take up what, in view of the facts 
known to himself and not to me, was a ridiculous 
prosecution against my father. He was, of course, 



86 Oscar Wilde and Myself 

beaten, and the authorities turned upon him and 
convicted him of crimes which he had denied. Then 
I became a convenient scapegoat. 

I did not drag Wilde down to Bow Street to 
procure a warrant. I went with him, but at his 
own request. The suggestion of coercion — either 
moral or physical — is ridiculous. Here was the 
''King of Life" — a great big, fat, strong fellow, 
full of brains and forty-one years of age — "in the 
prime of his splendid manhood," as one of his 
admirers puts it; and I was sixteen years his junior 
— that is to say, twenty-four years of age. The 
real fact is that he had something inside him that 
I knew nothing about — namely and to wit, a guilty 
conscience. He was too much of a coward to tell 
me that he was guilty of the charges the Marquis 
of Queensberry had levelled at him, and he was 
too much of a coward, even, to go to Bow Street 
for a warrant alone : so he came whimpering to me 
to go with him. 

I did not coerce or cajole Wilde into going to 
Monte Carlo at this time, nor did Wilde pay my 
expenses or my gambling losses. Wilde said his 
nerves were all broken up. He had never been 
to Monte Carlo, and we went there in order that 
he might be distracted from the question of the 
trial, upon which he seemed to brood a great deal. 




THE LATE MARQUIS OF QUEENSBERRY 



Lord Queensberry Intervenes 87 

Believing him to be an innocent man, I told him 
that he was a fool to worry and that it was the other 
side who ought to do the worrying, and we went to 
]\Ionte Carlo. I have frequently been to Monte 
Carlo, and I have never in my life spent more than 
two hours at a stretch in the rooms. On this par- 
ticular occasion I was less frequently in the rooms 
and for less periods of time than I have ever been 
before or since, largely because Wilde was with me. 
More often than not he was with me in the rooms, 
and I gave him more than one handful of louis out 
of my winnings. He never had the pluck to put a 
louis on the table because, as I have said, he always 
felt that a gold piece was a good deal of money. In 
any case, does it stand to reason that a man who 
had no money wherewith to pay his solicitor's fees 
was the kind of man one would take to Monte Carlo 
to pay one's hotel expenses and Casino losses ? No 
one but a fool would pretend to believe such a 
farrago of rubbish. 

Wilde's friends, including the never-to-be-for- 
gotten Robert Sherard, with the "face like a Roman 
Emperor," whom Wilde thought "perfectly wonder- 
ful," have echoed the cry that I was the author of 
his disaster and downfall. Even Mrs. Wilde writes 
to tell Sherard that I had "marred a fine life." Mr. 
Ransome, who tells his readers that he derives his 



88 Oscar Wilde and Myself 

biographical facts from Ross, says it in print. All 
these people should surely have been aware that the 
person who ruined Oscar Wilde and brought about 
his disaster and marred his life was Oscar Wilde 
himself. He was not charged at the Old Bailey 
for having taken proceedings against the Marquis 
of Queensberry, but for having made a low, squalid 
and abominable brute of himself. They prefer to 
assume that he was convicted on false evidence 
and to speak always of me as the author of his 
debacle. Their great point seems to be that if he 
had not known me he would probably never have 
been found out and might have passed down to 
posterity for one of those highly respectable per- 
sons of whom he professes to be so contemptuous; 
and if this be their point, I will cheerfully concede 
it to them. 

It was also a charge against me — again on 
Wilde's word only — that I was, at the time of his 
trouble, attacking him with loathsome letters. Now, 
what does this mean, and what is the suggestion? 
Where are those letters, and how could I be ac- 
cusing him in letters on the one hand, and putting 
up money to defend him from these very accusa- 
tions on the other ? I had written him no loathsome 
letters : all I had written after our conversation on 
the subject was a letter in which I confirmed my 



Lord Queensberry Intervenes 89 

opinion that, as he was innocent of these charges, 
he had no alternative but to proceed against my 
father. Yet this was brought against me as being 
as 'loathsome'' as the cards on which my father 
had been charging him with a terrible offence. The 
truth was that Wilde, having once decided to take 
proceedings against my father, made up his mind 
that, if they failed, I was to be responsible for 
everything. 



CHAPTER VII 

THE WILDE TRIALS 

A LL the world knows that the proceedings 
/\ against my father broke down, as it was 
jL, JL, only natural that they should. Wilde had 
a guilty mind, which he was careful to hide from 
me, and he attributed his defeat to "a foul and hide- 
ous conspiracy'' and not to the fact that my father 
had merely spoken the truth. One of his biog- 
raphers has given a highly melodramatic account of 
what happened after the collapse of the prosecution. 
Says the writer in question: "At that moment, my 
friend, with some companions, was sitting in a 
private room in the Cadogan Arms (sic), smoking 
cigarettes, drinking whisky-and-soda, and waiting. 
What for waiting (sic), not one of them could have 
said. They had set fire to a mine and were trying to 
stupefy themselves into the belief and hope that it 
would not explode beneath them. It was reported to 
me that when, after an intentional delay of many 
hours, unable to wait any longer, the police at last 
moved and a knock came at the door of that sitting- 

90 



The Wilde Trials 91 

room in the Cadogan Arms, they all blanched as if 
under the shock of a sudden surprise. Not one of his 
friends had the sense to explain to Wilde what was 
the true meaning of the warning his counsel had 
given at the close of his cross-examination, or to 
force him to realise that, if only as a matter of 
public policy, he should leave the country at once. 
As a matter of fact, the warrant for his arrest was 
not signed until after the last day train for Dover, 
carefully watched, had been seen to leave without 
him, and it was impossible to delay action any 
longer." 

The inexactitudes herein set forward are as 
beautiful as they are numerous. In the first place, 
this wonderful biographer's friend never sat with 
some companions in a private room in the Cadogan 
Arms smoking cigarettes and drinking whiskies and 
soda. Wilde's companions, for reasons best known 
to themselves, disappeared like snowflakes on a 
river the moment it was known that Sir Edward 
Clarke had withdrawn from the proceedings against 
my father. The only person left with him at this 
precise juncture happens to have been myself. We 
were both well aware that Wilde's arrest might fol- 
low on what had happened ; and Wilde was not only 
sure that he was about to be arrested, but he told 
me that in all likelihood they would arrest me also. 



92 Oscar Wilde and Myself 

I did my best to cheer him up, and I pointed out to 
him that they were welcome to indulge in any 
amount of arresting, since he said himself that he 
had done nothing and I knew that I had done noth- 
ing. I had a suite of rooms at the Cadogan Hotel — 
not ''Arms," Mr. Sherard, if you please ! — in Sloane 
Street, and I drove Wilde there from the Old Bailey 
after we had lunched at the Holborn Hotel. I 
never saw a man more broken up or more nervously 
anxious about himself. He kept on tearfully pro- 
testing that it was a vile and hideous conspiracy 
against him, and that the suspense would kill him. 
I managed to bring him to reason, somewhat, by 
talking to him pretty plainly; and, in order to help 
him with the suspense difficulty, I went down to the 
House of Commons to see my cousin, George 
Wyndham, and asked him if he could find out what 
the authorities intended to do. Wyndham saw me 
in the lobby and, after making enquiries in the 
House, came out and told me that Sir Robert Reid 
had told him that there was to be a prosecution. I 
went back to the Cadogan Hotel and found there, 
not Oscar Wilde, but a letter in which he told me 
he had been arrested and would have to pass 
the night at Bow Street, and asking me to see vari- 
ous people on the question of bail, and also to come 
to Bow Street and try to see him. This letter I 



The Wilde Trials 93 

had intended to produce in facsimile, but the amiable 
Mr. Ross has obtained an injunction which prevents 
me from doing so. There was never any question 
of his leaving the country until the time when he 
was out on bail. According to his own showing, he 
had no reason for leaving the country other than 
to avoid the inconvenience of a criminal trial. In 
any case, he could not have left, because he was 
shadowed by detectives from the moment he had left 
the Old Bailey that morning. So far from sitting 
in private rooms and endeavouring to stupefy our- 
selves with cigarettes and whisky, we had spent the 
hour after lunch in going round to George Lewis, 
the solicitor, to see if he could do anything. He 
said it was too late for anything to be done, and 
that if the matter had been taken to him in the first 
instance, he would simply have destroyed my 
father's card and told Wilde not to be a fool. In 
view of Mr. Ross's attempt to attribute Wilde's 
downfall to my bad advice, it is singular that I had 
recommended him to go to Mr. Lewis. If he had 
done so, there would have been no prosecution. As 
it was, he went to Mr. Ross's own solicitor, Mr. 
Humphreys, who advised the prosecution which 
proved so disastrous. 

I do not think that the grounds upon which Sir 
Edward Clarke withdrew from the proceedings 



94 Oscar Wilde and Myself 

against my father have ever been stated, and con- 
sequently I set them out herewith. Sir Edward 
Clarke, like myself, believed in Wilde's innocence. 
He looked upon him as more or less of a madman, 
who did everything that was foolish and unwise 
for the mere sake of appearing eccentric or 
superior; but he nevertheless believed that he was 
innocent of any actual viciousness. After Sir Ed- 
ward Carson's cross-examination of Wilde, there 
was a conference, and Sir Edward Clarke pointed 
out that it would be impossible to get over the preju- 
dice created in the minds of the jury by Wilde's 
admissions in the witness-box. Sir Edward Carson 
had made great use of 'The Picture of Dorian 
Gray" in the course of the cross-examination, and 
passages had been read which obviously pointed to 
a most objectionable attitude of mind on the part 
of the author towards certain vices. Sir Edward 
Clarke advised that when the proceedings opened 
next day, no further evidence should be offered 
against the Marquis of Queensberry, and that the 
case against him should be abandoned on the 
ground that what Wilde had written and published 
in ''Dorian Gray" would be sufficient to justify a 
reasonable person in supposing that Wilde sympa- 
thised with the vices in question. It should be 
pointed out that my father had not accused Wilde 



The Wilde Trials 95 

of the actual practice of these vices; on the card 
which he left at Wilde's club he had written an 
accusation against Wilde as "posing" as a vicious 
person. Sir Edward Clarke was of opinion that, 
if the course indicated were taken, the defence 
would be more or less appeased and that Wilde 
would, to some extent, save his face and lessen the 
risks of a subsequent prosecution. "If you with- 
draw from the case now," said Sir Edward, "it will 
be a nine days' talk, but you will probably hear no 
more about it so far as the authorities are con- 
cerned. If you continue, and Lord Queensberry is 
found 'not guilty,' they will, in all probability, arrest 
you in court." Mr. — now Sir Charles — Matthews, 
who was also counsel for Wilde, agreed with Sir 
Edward, and it was decided to withdraw. Every- 
body who writes about this part of the proceedings 
contrives to suggest that Sir Edward Clarke threw 
up the sponge in disgust and without Wilde's con- 
sent or knowledge. In point of fact, Wilde con- 
sented to the withdrawal and, so far from throwing 
him over as a client, both Sir Edward Clarke and 
Sir Charles Matthews defended him in the two sub- 
sequent trials, and, what is more, defended him 
for nothing. 

On returning to the Cadogan Hotel and finding 
that Wilde had been arrested, I went straight to 



96 Oscar Wilde and Myself 

Bow Street and offered bail for his temporary 
release. I was told that bail could not be accepted 
that night and that, if bail were accepted at all, 
other securities besides myself would be required. 
I went off at once to see Mr. — now Sir George — 
Alexander and Mr. Lewis Waller, at whose theatres 
Wilde's plays were running, and asked them to offer 
bail. In the letter Wilde left for me at the Cadogan 
he requested me to see these gentlemen for that 
purpose. They both refused. Between the time 
of his arrest and of his trial at the Old Bailey, Wilde 
was kept at Holloway Prison, and either there or at 
Bow Street I visited him daily for a period of three 
or four weeks. There was nobody else to come 
near him. His companions had left the country, 
his wife would have nothing to do with him, and 
his general acquaintance was going about London 
protesting that it had never known him. It is the 
fashion to say that I deserted him. At the Ran- 
some trial Mr. Campbell, k.c, had the face to put 
it to me that I fled the country. If a daily pilgrim- 
age to Holloway and daily interviews with a pris- 
oner are desertion and fleeing the country, then 
my gentle detractors are right. Without the slight- 
est intention of benefit to me, a certain person has 
made public a letter which states that my daily visits 
were the only things which quickened Wilde into 



The Wilde Trials 97 

life. And here is a portion of a letter which I 
myself had occasion to write to this same person : "I 
saw Oscar yesterday in a private room at the police 
court, and he gave me your three letters and asked 
me to write and tell you how deeply touched he was 
by your kindness and sympathy and loyalty to him 
in his terrible and undeserved trouble. He himself 
is so ill and unhappy that he has not sufficient 
strength and energy to write, and all his time has 
to be devoted to preparing his defence against a 
diabolical conspiracy, which seems almost unlimited 
in its size and strength. I will not add to your 
sorrow by telling you of the privations and suffer- 
ings he has to endure. I have seen him three times 
since his arrest: once through a horrible kind of 
barred cage, separated from him by a space of one 
yard and in almost complete darkness, with twenty 
other people talking at the same time. This is the 
ordinary way, and one visit a day of a quarter of 
an hour is all he is allowed. After that, I managed 
to get an order from the Home Secretary to see him 
in a private room for three-quarters of an hour. And 
yesterday I contrived to have a fairly long interview 
with him at the police court. In spite of all the 
brutal and cowardly clamour of our disgusting 
newspapers, I think the sympathy of all decent men 
is with him, and that he will ultimately triumph ; but 



98 Oscar Wilde and Myself 

he has much to go through first. I have determined 
to remain here and do what I possibly can, though 
I am warned on all hands that my own risk is not 
inconsiderable and my family implore me to go 
away." It is plain, on the whole, therefore, that 
desertion and fleeing the country are rather out of 
the picture. 

During the time that Wilde lay in Holloway 
Prison I began to have a certain amount of doubt 
as to his innocence. In our repeated conversations 
he clung to the conspiracy fiction with considerable 
persistence. As the time for the trial drew near, 
however, he began to weaken, and eventually he 
admitted that there were "things in his life which 
could be made to look pretty awkward;'' but this 
was as far as he would go. His one anxiety seemed 
to be that I should not give him up, and I always 
told him that I never would. One day he said to 
me: "Even if these horrible tales were true, you 
would stick to me, wouldn't you?" And I said, "Of 
course I would." It was not until the day before 
the trial that he made anything like a proper attempt 
to unburden himself. It had been arranged that I 
should see him in a private room on this day and 
that we should have a longer interview than was 
permitted by the regulations. We talked on gen- 
eral matters for some time, but ultimately Wilde 



The Wilde Trials 99 

became very serious and said that he did not see 
how it was possible for him to hope for a verdict 
of ''not guilty." He then went on to tell me that, 
''in a way," the charges set forward in the indict- 
ment were true and that he must have been mad 
to live as he had been living and that his only hope 
was that the skill of Clarke and Matthews might 
save him from the severest punishment. He re- 
minded me of my promise not to forsake him and, 
though I was shocked at what he told me, I am free 
to confess that it never entered into my head that 
it was my duty forthwith to give up his acquaint- 
ance. I told him that what he had said should not 
make any difference and that I would stick to him 
through thick and thin. 

In the meanwhile great pressure was being 
brought to bear on me by my family to leave the 
country. My father's advisers put up the very 
worst reason they could have chosen to get me to 
do this. They pretended that, as my name had been 
so continually linked with Wilde's, and as a silly 
letter he had addressed to me had been read in 
court, I was under some danger of being arrested 
and charged with him. Such threats did not move 
me in the least — rather, they confirmed me in my 
determination to stop where I was. During those 
unpleasant days I seemed almost to live at Bow 



100 Oscar Wilde and Myself 

Street or Holloway, so that if the police had wanted 
me they knew where to find me. Then Sir Edward 
Clarke took a hand, quite independently, I believe, 
of any suggestion from my family. He pointed out 
that my continued association with Wilde after the 
collapse of the case against my father was creating 
all sorts of comment and prejudice, and that it 
would be much better for Wilde if I went abroad. 
When I put it to Wilde he said that he quite agreed 
with Sir Edward Clarke and that I should be oblig- 
ing him and putting him in a better position in the 
eyes of the world if I remained away during the 
trial. Even with this assurance I was not satisfied, 
and I asked Wilde to think it over and put it into 
writing, which he did. I thereupon left England 
for Paris. The result of the trial was that the 
jury disagreed. There had been six counts in the 
indictment, and the prosecution had brought up all 
sorts of extraordinary evidence, but the jury could 
not come to a unanimous verdict. It had been said, 
and, I believe, with truth, that only one juror stood 
out in Wilde's favour. In any case, there was the 
fact of no verdict, and the authorities had to con- 
sider their position. They decided to have a new 
trial, and Wilde was taken back to Holloway. It 
was arranged that he should be admitted to bail 
until the new trial took place if sureties to the 



The Wilde Trials 101 

amount of two thousand five hundred pounds were 
forthcoming. My brother Percy, then Lord Doug- 
las of Hawick and now Marquis of Queensberry, 
and the Rev. Stuart Headlam became bail for the 
amount. 

I have often thought that the supremely tragical 
period of Wilde's life was not the moment of his 
taking action against my father, as he suggested, 
but the period during which he was out on bail with 
the second trial looming ahead of him. I have 
reason for knowing that Wilde looked upon the dis- 
agreement of the jury as a sort of verdict in his 
favour, and was under the impression that he stood 
a very good sporting chance of being found not 
guilty at the second trial. It is notorious that per- 
sons afflicted with Wilde's particular type of 
viciousness are for ever believing that the world 
will one day condone and even approve of them. 
Wilde looked upon the one juryman who refused 
to find him guilty not as an honest Englishman who 
was determined to satisfy himself on the evidence, 
but as a friend or approver of unnameable wicked- 
ness. He argued: ''If there was one man of this 
jury who was with me there is sure to be one on the" 
next," and, as it was evident that people were be- 
coming tired of the scandal, and the press, which 
in the beginning had pursued him with relentless 



102 Oscar Wilde and Myself 

and bloodthirsty fierceness, had calmed down a 
good deal, he began to think that he would get oflf. 
For my own part, I do not profess to have had 
great wisdom, but it happens that I did not think 
that he would get of? and, rightly or wrongly, I 
advised him to leave the country. I wrote to my 
brother Percy and asked him if he would mind if 
Wilde made a bolt of it. The matter was put to 
Wilde and he refused to budge. His brother is 
reputed to have said : ''Oscar is an Irish gentleman 
and will face the music.'' It has been held up to 
him for nobility that he did remain, and I have 
frequently seen it stated that he remained because 
he did not wish to be dishonourable with respect 
to his bail. His bail, however, would not have com- 
plained if he had gone. Yet he stopped. Here 
again the tragedy was entirely of his own making. 
Even if we are to believe that Wilde abandoned 
his will-power entirely to me when he went to Bow 
Street for his warrant, how comes it to pass that 
when he was at Oakley Street without a shilling or 
a friend and a public exposure behind him of the 
like no man ever had in all history, his will-power 
suddenly reasserts itself? I have been blamed for 
suggesting that he should go away. On the other 
hand, the very people who blamed me for advising 
his retreat when I knew that he was guilty, have 



The Wilde Trials 103 

blamed me for not advising him to get away when 
I supposed him to be innocent. I take no shame 
whatever for having advised him as I did. His 
withdrawal to France would have cost my brother 
two thousand five hundred pounds, and heaven 
alone knows what it would have cost me in hard 
money; but it would have saved Wilde two years 
of imprisonment and it would have saved literature 
from the ultimate degradation at his hands. For it 
is obvious that, if he had remained a free man, he 
would not have degraded himself and the English 
language by writing ''De Profundis." 

I have already produced the statement of one 
of Wilde's biographers as to the manner in which 
Wilde and his companions are alleged to have spent 
the hours between the collapse of the case against 
Lord Queensberry and Wilde's arrest; but I should 
like once more to call attention to the sentence about 
the police knocking at the door of the sitting-room 
at the Cadogan Arms and the ''blanched faces" and 
''sudden surprise" of Wilde and his companions. 
Here is another account of what happened: "Oscar 
Wilde had spent that afternoon in a private sitting- 
room at a hotel, smoking cigarettes, drinking 
whisky and soda and reading now the Yellow Book 
and now evening papers. He evinced neither dis- 
may nor trepidation when the officers entered the 



104 Oscar Wilde and Myself 

room^ and, on alighting from the cab at Scotland 
Yard, he had a courteous discussion with one of 
the detectives about the payment of the cab." It 
will interest the reader to know that both these 
accounts, though they are diametrically opposed one 
to the other, are the work of the same person — 
namely, Robert Harborough Sherard. 

It is the same Mr. Sherard who tells the follow- 
ing fearful and wonderful anecdote: ''Late in the 
afternoon of the following day, Saturday, 25th 
May, 1895, Oscar Wilde was found guilty and sen- 
tenced to two years' hard labour. There had been 
six counts against him. He was asked after his 
release by a very old friend as to the justice of the 
finding, and he said: Tive of the counts referred 
to matters with which I had absolutely nothing to 
do. There was some foundation for one of the 
counts.' 'But then, why,' asked his friend, 'did you 
not instruct your defenders?' 'That would have 
meant betraying a friend,' said Oscar. Circum- 
stances which have since transpired have estab- 
lished — what for the rest was never in doubt in the 
minds of those who heard it made — the absolute 
truth of this statement." 

Presuming that Wilde said this, he must have 
taken for granted that "those who heard him" had 
suddenly become idiots. The six counts of the in- 



DRAWING OF LORD ALFRED DOUGLAS, AT THE 
AGE OF TWENTY-FOUR 



The Wilde Trials 105 

dictment bore reference to his improper relations 
with different persons, all of whom were produced 
in the witness-box and gave their evidence in 
Wilde's presence. If a friend had been involved in 
the slightest way, that friend's name would most 
assuredly have leaked out in the course of the pro- 
ceedings, and if twenty friends had been involved 
and their names had been kept secret, Wilde's posi- 
tion would not have been bettered in the slightest 
degree or his guilt any the less plainly established. 
Wilde was not of the stuff that goes to hard labour 
with the name of a friend in his bosom when, by 
mentioning that name, he could have cleared him- 
self. His whole principle of life was subversive 
to any such high altruism ; he would not have gone 
without his dinner to save a friend — much less have 
faced ruin and imprisonment. 



CHAPTER VIII 

HARD LABOUR AND AFTER 

TO say that I was distressed by the sentence 
of two years' imprisonment with hard 
labour, imposed upon Wilde by a Judge 
who seemed to be absolutely without mercy, is to 
put a mild term upon my condition of anguish. 
Wilde and his supporters never ceased to suggest 
that the whole thing was my fault. They never 
blamed him for what he had done, but went about 
calling my father opprobrious names and asserting 
that I had been Wilde's ruin. It pleased them to 
have a scapegoat upon whom to shift the moral 
responsibilities of this big fat man and, with the 
help of a foolish letter or two which I had written 
at moments of great stress, they shifted them to 
some purpose. I have no desire to be mealy- 
mouthed about the suggestions which have been 
made, and I will say right out what impression 
it is that these people have tried to create from the 
time that Wilde went to prison. They have sug- 

io6 



Hard Labour and After 107 

gested that I, Alfred Bruce Douglas, was a partner 
in the vices of which Wilde was charged and con- 
victed. There has been more or less established the 
legend that it was I who took him from the path of 
rectitude and introduced him to the kennels of foul- 
ness; and the impression has been created that I 
led a debauched life with him prior to his imprison- 
ment and that, when he came out and was willing 
to mend his ways and be reconciled to his wife, it 
was I who seduced him and dragged him back to 
his old villainies. I observe that Mr. Ransome has 
the following note to the edition of his critical study 
which has lately been published at a shilling: "The 
publication of this book in 1912 was the subject of 
a libel action which was brought against me in the 
King's Bench Division of the High Court of Jus- 
tice, and was heard before Mr. Justice Darling and 
a Special Jury on four days in April, 1913. In that 
action a verdict was given in my favour. In bring- 
ing out this new edition I have considered the ques- 
tion of reprinting the book in its original form, as I 
have a perfect right to do; but as I do not consider 
that the passages complained of are essential to 
the critical purpose of my book, I have decided, in 
order to spare the feelings of those who might be 
pained by the further publication of those passages, 
to omit them from this edition." 



108 Oscar Wilde and Myself 

Mr. Ransome's desire to spare people's feelings 
by omitting from his book what is not true is won- 
derfully creditable to him ; but the fact remains that 
he asserted in his first edition that Wilde owed 
some, at least, of the circumstances of his public 
disgrace to me, while the exquisite Mr. Sherard 
goes further and embellishes his "authoritative'' 
life with the following passage : "He was then living 
in Naples. The circumstances under which he had 
been obliged to leave Berneval and return to the 
least desirable companionship that the zvorld of men 
offered to his choice are summed up in the follow- 
ing sentence by the author of Twenty Years in 
Paris' : The time came, however, when, being with- 
out money, repulsed, desolate, he could no longer 
resist entreaties which offered to him companion- 
ship in the place of utter loneliness, friendship in 
the place of hostility, homage in the place of insult 
and, in the place of impending destitution, a luxuri- 
ous and elegant hospitality.' " 

It is well known that it was I who offered him a 
sanctuary at Naples when his money had run out 
and he was reduced to a paltry allowance of two 
pounds nineteen and sixpence a week; and I sub- 
mit that the sentence italicised in the above-quoted 
passage is intended to mean — and can only mean — 
one thing; while Ransome's assertion is capable of 



Hard Labour and After 109 

the worst interpretation. And now we come to the 
inner secret of the whole of the abominable busi- 
ness. When Wilde went to prison I was in France, 
by his own request. I wrote to him the moment 
I heard of the sentence, and there can be no doubt 
whatever that, up to this point, we were good 
friends and that he counted me his chiefest and 
dearest friend. I set to work immediately to do 
what I could for him in the way of trying to get 
his sentence reduced, and trying to obtain for him 
special privileges in prison. In pursuance of my 
promise and my natural desire to stick to him 
through thick and thin, I even went the length of 
writing to certain newspapers with a view to show- 
ing that what he had done would not have been 
considered so very terrible by many eminent people ; 
that his offence was no offence at all in France, and 
that his sentence was altogether out of proportion 
to his crime when one came to consider the amount 
of suffering a sentence of two years' hard labour 
would entail upon a man of his nature and tem- 
perament. 

In addition to engaging myself in these efforts 
on Wilde's behalf, I was kept continually busy re- 
pelling all sorts of stupid attacks on myself. 
Wilde's conviction and the curiosity and scandal 
aroused by what transpired at the trial seems to 



110 Oscar Wilde and Myself 

have driven the whole of Paris into a state of mad- 
ness for the time being. Statements of the most 
ridiculous kind about Wilde and myself were pub- 
lished broadcast — articles were printed which pur- 
ported to be written by me and were signed in my 
name, though I had never so much as seen them; 
and one paper went the length of printing a number 
of gallant letters which I was alleged to have ad- 
dressed to a certain well-known demi-mondaine — 
a lady, by the way, to whom I had never written 
or spoken in my life. I spent a great deal of time 
and temper in endeavouring to cope with these 
matters : I challenged various people to duels and I 
took actions at law against various newspapers. 
But I soon found that it was next door to impossible 
to keep track of my traducers and that I might 
easily have spent the rest of my life in litigation 
without obtaining redress. 

About this time I wrote for the Mercure de 
France an article about Wilde which might have 
done him a certain amount of good in the literary 
sense. Sherard heard in some way that this article 
had been written ; he mentioned it to Wilde in prison 
and, on the strength of what Wilde said, Sherard 
wrote me a letter stating that Wilde desired that 
the article should not appear. I gave Sherard his 
immediate and proper answer and, as it was noth- 



Hard Labour and After 111 

ing to me whether the article appeared or not, unless 
Wilde wished it to appear, I arranged with the 
Mercure de France that it should not be printed. 
In the meantime, I decided to go to England and 
to visit Wilde in prison, in order that we might 
talk generally of his affairs. I wrote informing 
Robert Ross of my intention and, in reply, he told 
me that he had just come from Wilde and that, as 
his correspondence and visitors were strictly lim- 
ited, he desired that I should neither write to him 
nor visit him. I said that I thought such a request 
ought to have come to me directly from Wilde — 
either by word of mouth or by letter — but Ross told 
me that prisoners were allowed to write only a lim- 
ited number of letters in the year, and to see only a 
limited number of visitors and that he had already 
written as many letters as he was entitled to write 
and would be unable either to receive letters or 
visitors for some time to come. I was very much 
upset on receiving this news, and I had some 
thought of trying to obtain an interview with Wilde 
through influence which I possessed ; but I was told 
that it would be bad for Wilde if I did so, and I 
accordingly determined to follow out his wishes and 
to wait until he could write or send to me. I sub- 
sequently went to Naples and occupied myself with 
literary pursuits, getting together a volume of 



112 Oscar Wilde and Myself 

poetry which I proposed to pubHsh and dedicate to 
Wilde. 

Now it is quite clear that during the latter part 
of his imprisonment Wilde laboured under the im- 
pression that my silence and my failure to visit 
him were due to carelessness, indifference and 
apathy on my part. Either he did not know, or 
pretended not to know, of the precise intimations 
given to me not to visit or write to him. As he did 
not hear from me, he concluded that I had forsaken 
him. This filled him with a violent anger, and he 
set to work and wrote ''De Profundis." His rage 
and hate apparently knew no limits, and Sherard 
published a letter of Mrs. Wilde's, in which she 
states that she had seen her husband in prison and 

that he had said that if he could get hold of , 

meaning myself, he would kill him. 

And all this time I was thinking hourly of the 
man who had been my friend and counting the days 
to the time of his release. I had steady reports of 
him from Ross, but never a word or a hint that he 
was angry with me or that I had done anything 
to offend him, until he had nearly completed his sen- 
tence. The only indication of the sort that came 
my way was in the matter of the dedication of my 
first volume of poems. Ross wrote to say that 
Wilde felt that it would be better if I did not dedi- 



Hard Labour and After 113 

cate the book to him; and, as he wished it, I re- 
frained and issued the book without any dedication 
at all. 

Of Wilde in prison we have had many touching 
and woeful pictures. Sherard has a passage about 
it which, in the circumstances, is worth quoting: 
"In Wandsworth Prison first and then in Reading 
Gaol, Oscar Wilde's mental development reached 
a point of transcendency to which never in the 
world of men he could have hoped to attain. There 
had been forced upon him the recluse life which 
had raised many men in the world's history towards 
the stars, but which, perhaps, never before demon- 
strated its reforming and enhancing powers in a 
manner more magnificent, more orbicular, more tri- 
umphant. In the old days he had tried to imitate 
Balzac in his mode of life ; but Society and Pleasure 
had ever knocked at the door of his cell, nor had 
he the strength of will great enough to resist their 
allurements. Now there were iron bars between 
him and the wasteful pleasures of the world: a 
claustration as strict, if less severe, than that which 
Balzac imposed upon himself, held him fast, and he 
had the time to think. He had the time to think, 
and with a brain which at last had recovered its 
splendid normal power. The prison regime, the 
enforced temperance in food, the enforced abstin- 



114 Oscar Wilde and Myself 

ence from all narcotic drugs and drink, the regular 
hours, the periodical exercise — the simple life, in 
one word — had restored him the splendid heritage 
that he had received from nature. What the real 
Oscar Wilde was, and of what he was capable, was 
now to be made patent. In 'De Profundis' he laid 
his soul bare, and the impartial are to judge from 
that book of the man's new powers as a thinker 
and as a literary artist. His friends will ask no 
more than that, reserving to themselves the high 
delight of taking a holy joy in the lofty virtues 
which that book reveals, the kindness, the patience, 
the resignation, the forgiveness of sins so splendid 
that one may almost believe that in his ardent medi- 
tations on Christ he was able to bring the bodily 
presence of the God who taught these things into 
his cell, and to learn from the divine lips themselves 
what is the true secret of human happiness. Critics 
abroad have said : There is too much about Christ 
in "De Profundis," ' overlooking the fact that the 
book is, from the first page to the last, inspired by 
Christ — that no man who had not found Christ 
could have written that book, nor lived as the man 
who wrote it did live. In England, one heard it 
said that it is absurd to believe that an agnostic, a 
sensualist would turn to religion, and the blas- 
phemous statement has been made that this book 



Hard Labour and After 115 

is, in its way, no more sincere than the dying con- 
fessions of many prison cells, the greasy cant that 
officious chaplains win from fawning prisoners. 
One has heard the word HYPOCRISY pro- 
nounced." This is very precious writing and quite 
typical of the ecstatic frame of mind of the average 
Wilde enthusiast. Unlike Mr. Ransome, however, 
Mr. Sherard does not appear to have had the ad- 
vantage of knowing that the published "De Pro- 
fundis," which aroused him to such a pitch of 
pietistic fervour, is merely a collection of elegant 
extracts. A perusal of the extracts from the com- 
plete "De Profundis'' published in reports of the 
Ransome trial would have convinced him that this 
saint-like inhabitant of Wandsworth and Reading 
gaols was indeed a hypocrite of the most hypo- 
critical dye, and that the "De Profundis'' was in- 
deed "no more sincere than the dying confessions 
of many prison cells, the greasy cant that officious 
chaplains wring from fawning prisoners." Nay, it 
was worse than this, for the design of the canting 
deceiver of prison chaplains is not usually to hurt 
other people, whereas Wilde's design was utterly 
to destroy the reputation and good name of a man 
who had befriended him ; and to do this in such a 
way that he might still continue to obtain kindness 
and money from the object of his hatred and leave 



116 Oscar Wilde and Myself 

him absolutely without a word of defence in his 
lifetime. I say that Oscar Wilde conceived this 
horrible and unheard-of plot in his unreasoning 
rage at what he conceived to be my attitude towards 
him, and I say that Mr. Robert Ross, who professed 
great friendship for me both then and until long 
after Wilde's death, did nothing to make Wilde's 
plot ineffective, or even to warn me of it. On the 
contrary, he presented the unpublished parts of 
'*De Profundis" to the authorities at the British 
Museum on the understanding that it was to re- 
main sealed up only until the year 1960. However, 
I shall deal with the whole question of ''De Pro- 
fundis" in a separate chapter. My main point here 
is to show plainly what has been brought to my 
charge, and to show how the people who bring these 
charges stultify themselves. Nobody who reads 
Mr. Ransome's book before (out of the kindness 
of his heart) he removed his aspersions on me, could 
doubt for a moment that he wished to convey the 
impression that I had a bad influence upon Wilde 
and that it was this bad influence that brought 
Wilde to grief and prevented him from rehabili- 
tating himself after his release. Yet it is this same 
Mr. Ransome — who tells his readers in his preface 
that he is indebted to Mr. Ross for verifications of 
his biographical facts — who gives us the following 



Hard Labour and After 117 

precise details as to ''the intensification of Wilde's 
personality" when he became a habitual devotee of 
the vice for which he was imprisoned : ''He had first 
experimented in that vice,'' says Ransome, 'Hn 
1886; his experiments became a habit in 1889." 
Well, in 1886 I was a boy, fifteen years of age, at 
Winchester School, and I had never so much as 
heard of Oscar Wilde; whereas in 1889 I was 
eighteen years of age and in the south of France 
with a tutor, and was not to meet Wilde — whose 
name was still unknown to me — till nearly three 
years later. So that by the time we did meet he 
had already found his way to the lowest moral 
depths without my juvenile assistance. It is to be 
noted further that both Ross and Sherard knew 
Wilde long before I did; and, according to their 
own showing, were his constant and faithful com- 
panions until I arrived on the scene. Both of them 
swear that they never heard him use an objection- 
able phrase or an obscene remark, and that they 
had no inkling of his aberration. Whereas I, a cal- 
low undergraduate from Oxford, with so simple 
an outlook upon life that, in spite of my classical 
training, I never clearly understood the nature of 
Wilde's viciousness till the time of the trials, am 
alleged to have known everything and to have been 



118 Oscar Wilde and Myself 

the prime mover in events v^hich had occurred 
years before I was on the scene at all. 

Then again, let us take the accounts of v^hat hap- 
pened immediately after Wilde came out of prison. 
During the time of his incarceration some sympa- 
thiser or other — a lady, by the way — put up a thou- 
sand pounds for the use of Wilde, so that he might 
have money by him while he was in prison and a 
sufficient sum to face the world with when he came 
out. There can be no doubt whatever that Wilde 
had at least eight hundred pounds at his command 
on the day he left prison. Ransome tells us that 
he "immediately crossed the Channel for Dieppe, 
where he stayed for some days and drove about with 
Mr. Robert Ross and Mr. Reginald Turner, exam- 
ining the surrounding villages, most of which 
seemed uninhabitable.'' At the end of a week he 
took rooms in the inn at the little hamlet of Berne- 
val. Then he took a chalet for the season and 
talked about building a house. "He asked for his 
pictures and Japanese gold-paper that should pro- 
vide a fitting background for lithographs by 
Rothenstein and Shannon." Sherard tells us that 
at Berneval his resources melted away in his hands. 
"He spent money with the recklessness of sailors 
on shore and prisoners free of gaol. ... In inviting 
friends to visit him at Berneval, he used to ask those 



Hard Labour and After 119 

who were married to bring their wives with them. 
. . . He showed himself, to those who had the 
privilege of seeing him during the weeks he spent in 
Berneval, a gentleman, a hero, and a Christian T 
Doubtless! The italics are mine and I make no 
comment. I was in Paris and, later, in Aix-les- 
Bains with my mother during the brief, bright, 
brotherly Berneval weeks, when Oscar Wilde was 
getting rid of the last of his substance and throwing 
out of the window, as it were, the money which 
should have been used reasonably to maintain him 
until he could cast about for work. I heard from 
Wilde that he was all right and going well and 
strong, and that he had ''dear so-and-so" and ''dear 
so-and-so'' to visit him. Several letters passed be- 
tween us, and he kept on saying that he would come 
to see me. Ultimately, when I had decided to take 
a villa at Naples, it was arranged that Wilde should 
visit me there. Just before I started for Naples, I 
got a long letter, in which he explained that he had 
spent his last shilling, that all his friends were gone, 
and that he hadn't even sufficient money to pay his 
fare to Naples. I telegraphed a sufficient sum to 
cover his expenses and he joined me there at the 
Royal Hotel. Soon after I moved into the Villa 
Giudice at Posilippo, taking Wilde with me. In less 
than three months at Berneval he had got through 



120 Oscar Wilde and Myself 

eight hundred pounds, and he came to me penniless, 
excepting for what I had myself given him. It is 
suggested that his coming to Naples was the result 
of frantic appeals and persuasions on my part. In 
point of fact, he came because he had nowhere else 
to go and because nobody else would have him. He 
required neither ''luring" nor "tempting" — which 
he certainly would not have had from me, in any 
case — and he was very glad to find a refuge in my 
establishment. 

There is just one other point, and I shall have 
done with this very unpleasant part of my subject. 
The people who suggest that in some unexplained 
manner I was the means of separating Wilde from 
his wife forget that Wilde left prison in May, J 897, 
and did not join me at Naples until the end of 
August of the same year. We have seen that im- 
mediately on his release from prison he went to 
Dieppe and was driving about with Ross and 
Turner. Why did they not take him to his wife? 
They were with him for weeks at Berneval, and so 
was Sherard. Why was the reconciliation — which 
Sherard professes to have laboured like Hercules 
to arrange — never brought about? Of course, the 
answer is Alfred Douglas stood between them. The 
fact is, that Alfred Douglas did nothing of the sort. 
What actually happened was this: Wilde never 



Hard Labour and After 121 

dreamed of rejoining Mrs. Wilde or becoming 
reconciled to her while his money lasted. When his 
money was spent he wrote to Ross and asked if 
more could not be raised. Ross replied that nothing 
more could be done. Wilde then wrote to his wife 
to enquire if she would receive him as her husband. 
Wilde asserted that she sent him a reply full of 
hums and haws and imposed a number of what he 
described as absurd conditions. The letter drove 
him into a fury and, I believe, he never wrote again 
to her in his life, or she to him. The plain fact is — 
as the unpublished part of ''De Profundis" shows — 
that Wilde had never forgiven me for what he be- 
lieved to be my neglect of him while he was in 
prison ; and that if the supplies of money had held 
out, he would never have come near me. But when 
he found that his admirers and supporters in Lon- 
don were not disposed to keep him in the lap of 
luxury at Berneval, and that they considered his 
miserable pittance of under three pounds a week 
sufficient for him to live upon, his thoughts turned 
towards Naples, where he knew no such views of 
economy were likely to prevail. He came to me on 
false pretences, because he knew that ''De Pro- 
fundis'' had not been destroyed and, from that time 
forward to the day of his death, I had the honour 
and pleasure of supporting him. 



CHAPTER IX 

NAPLES AND PARIS 

WHEN Wilde came to the Villa Giudice 
he was in fair health and reasonable 
spirits. That he had eaten and drunk 
too much at Berneval he freely admitted, but on 
the whole he was in good physical condition. From 
the end of August to the middle of November he 
had the run of my villa as my guest, and I paid 
the whole of the housekeeping expenses, including 
the tradesmen's bills for food and wine, the ser- 
vants' wages, and so forth, to which expenses Wilde 
never so much as contributed a farthing piece. So 
far as I am aware, the life he lived here was per- 
fectly proper and without reproach. He had 
brought with him from Berneval a rough draft 
of part of the "Ballad of Reading Gaol," which he 
read to me. It has been stated on supposed author- 
ity that Wilde composed none of the ''Ballad of 
Reading Gaol" during the time of his imprison- 
ment. He told me that he had composed certain 
of the stanzas in prison and he added to them at 

122 



Naples and Paris 123 

Berneval. But there can be no question that the 
poem was completed at Naples. He laboured over 
it in a manner which I had never known him to 
labour before. Every word had to be considered; 
every rhyme and every cadence carefully pondered. 
I had "Ballad of Reading GaoF' for breakfast, din- 
ner and tea, and for many weeks it was almost our 
sole topic of conversation. For my own part, I, too, 
was busy with literary work, and I wrote at Naples 
during this period some of my best sonnets, and 
occupied myself with various translations. We had 
not an idle week during the whole time we were 
together. It was one of the charges against me in 
the Ransome case that I hindered Wilde in his lit- 
erary production, and that he never did anything 
worth doing when he was with me. How maliciously 
false these statements were may be gathered from 
the fact that he planned and wrote the whole of 
''A Woman of No Importance" while we were to- 
gether at Lady Mount-Temple's house at Babba- 
combe; that he wrote the whole of 'The Impor- 
tance of Being Earnest" at Worthing, where we 
shared a house; and ''The Ideal Husband" partly at 
Goring, where we shared a house, and partly in 
London, while we were continually together; while 
he composed and completed the final version 
of the "Ballad of Reading Gaol" whilst staying in 



124 Oscar Wilde and Myself 

my villa at Naples. I have no desire to take credit 
to myself for another man's work, but many collab- 
orations between authors have been acknowledged 
on much less slender grounds than it would be pos- 
sible for me to set up in the matter of the aforesaid 
plays and of the aforesaid ''Ballad of Reading 
Gaol" if I were disposed to do so. In the ordinary 
course of events I would never have said a single 
word on the subject. It seemed to me perfectly 
natural that, as we were together, Wilde should 
show me what he was doing and read me what 
he was writing. And as he thereby invited 
advice and criticism, it seemed to be per- 
fectly natural that I should give it, and that he 
should adopt it. The truth is that Wilde con- 
sistently made free use of such gifts as I possessed, 
that I assisted him to many a piece of dialogue and 
many a gibe which has helped to make him famous, 
and that I gave him very material aid and counsel 
in the matter of the ''Ballad of Reading Gaol.'' 
There are passages in this latter poem which he 
lifted holus-bolus from a poem of my own, and it 
must be remembered that, while up to the time that 
he left Reading Gaol, he had affected some scorn of 
the ballad form and knew next to nothing of its 
possibilities, I had given a great amount of atten- 
tion to the study of that form and had produced 



Naples and Paris 125 

the '^Ballad of Perkin Warbeck^' and the ''Ballad of 
St. Vitus" — which latter Wilde read for the first 
time at Naples, and with which he was mightily 
impressed. It would be preposterous for me to 
claim more than my due as regards the literary side 
of our friendship, and I had perhaps better put the 
position this way : I have never denied that I learned 
things from Wilde and that, up to a certain point, 
I owe a good deal to him in the literary sense. On 
the other hand, in view of what he said, it is neces- 
sary for me to point out that Wilde owes just as 
much to me as I owe to him and, for that matter, a 
great deal more. I have written neither plays nor 
poems which embody a single word or phrase of his, 
and I never took a literary hint from him in my life. 
He has done me the honour to use a great deal of 
Alfred Douglas, and he is perfectly welcome. All 
I ask is, that I may not be maligned in consequence. 
Although our life at the Villa Giudice was per- 
fectly harmless and consisted mainly of fairly 
strenuous literary toil, the fact that we were to- 
gether did not please certain of Wilde's friends, and 
the scandal-mongers were set busy again. How 
easy it is to make scandal was prettily illustrated 
by no less a personage than Mr. Justice Darling 
during the course of the Ransome trial. "Are you 
aware, Mr. Campbell," said his lordship to the de- 



126 Oscar Wilde and Myself 

fending counsel, ''are you aware of the reputation 
of Naples?" Of course, Mr. Campbell shook his 
head in the most deprecatory manner, and the jury 
made a mental note that a villa at Naples meant the 
very lowest depths of wickedness and profligacy. 

Anybody who knows Europe at all, knows per- 
fectly well that Naples was then, and is now, a 
resort of the most exclusive set of the Italian aris- 
tocracy, and that there is a large and highly re- 
spectable English colony there. My grandmother, 
the late Hon. Mrs. Alfred Montgomery, lived there 
for twenty years, and there was not a person of 
position in the place by whom I was not known or 
with whom I was not on calling terms if I cared to 
follow up my social duties. There is nothing at all 
about the reputation of Naples to differentiate it 
from Rome or Genoa or Florence or Venice or any 
other Italian city. Many people of distinction 
whom Mr. Justice Darling might not be sorry to 
know continue to make a point of going there every 
season. Well, just as there were brave men before 
Agamemnon, so there were people who could ferret 
out scandal even from the most harmless method 
of life before Mr. Justice Darling. Wilde and I 
were together at Naples, and malice and leering 
gossip were abroad with their abominable insinua- 
tions before one had time to say "jackknife." The 



Naples and Paris 127 

reports naturally came to the ears of my people, 
who were much distressed and upset by them ; and 
it was pointed out to me that I was doing myself 
great damage by befriending this man and that I 
ought to send him about his business. One of the 
attaches from the British Embassy at Rome, in 
which city I had spent the winter of 1896 with my 
mother, came to Naples, at the instigation of the 
Ambassador, expressly to see me, and to urge on 
me the advisability of dissociating myself from 
Wilde. He told me that the fact that I had Wilde 
as a guest in my house was causing all sorts of un- 
pleasant gossip, and he even went so far as to say 
that it was not fair to them at the Embassy that I 
should persist in giving cause for such gossip, as 
they had all made a point of being civil and friendly 
to me when I was in Rome. I told him that I cared 
nothing for gossip and scandal, that I had asked 
Wilde to stay with me because he had nowhere else 
to go and was practically without means, and that 
it was unthinkable that in these circumstances I 
should turn him out of my house simply because 
evil-minded people chose to concern themselves 
with what was no affair of theirs. He was very 
insistent, and when he found that I was not to be 
moved he got annoyed with me, told me I was a 
"quixotic fool" and that I should live to be very 



128 Oscar Wilde and Myself 

sorry for having befriended a ''beast like Wilde/' 
who would get everything he could out of me and 
then probably turn round and abuse me. I was 
very indignant at this prophetic pronouncement, 
and we parted in anger. I believed then — and I 
believe now — that my attitude was the right one, 
and the gentlemanly one, in the right sense of the 
word. I knew that Oscar Wilde was hard at work 
on his poem. I believed that his life was clean 
and that he had determined to keep from his old 
evil courses; and I knew that my life was just as 
proper as it always had been, and I consequently 
saw no reason for turning upon my friend. The 
world was welcome to shrug its shoulders if it 
cared to, and I proposed to leave it to its shrugging. 
But the feeling amongst my friends in England, 
largely got up and fomented by my enemies, ulti- 
mately became so strong that it was proposed to 
stop my financial supplies unless I consented to a 
separation from Wilde. I was thus forced to 
capitulate; but I did not do so without a struggle 
and without making provision for the man who 
was dependent upon me. I arranged to leave him at 
the Villa Giudice, the rent of which had been paid 
in advance, and I arranged that my mother should 
send him two hundred pounds, which would enable 
him to live in comfort for a month or two; and I 



Naples and Paris 129 

further arranged to let him have additional money 
as he wanted it. I make special reference to the 
sum of two hundred pounds because it is a pay- 
ment which can be authenticated, and, in fact, was 
authenticated at the Ransome trial. It is true that 
at the very moment when he was writing to me in 
acknowledgment of these sums and to express his 
gratitude for my kindness, he was complaining to 
Ross in a letter produced at the Ransome trial that 
I had deserted him because his money was done. 
But every one with the slightest knowledge of 
Wilde's affairs knows perfectly well that all the 
money Wilde had was the allowance of two pounds 
nineteen and odd which came to him weekly through 
his friends. 

The general untrustworthiness of Wilde's accu- 
sation is obvious on the face of it. Any one ac- 
quainted with him would, moreover, have laughed 
at his impudence in saying that I expected him to 
raise money. I knew Wilde too well to expect him 
to raise money, even in his alleged palmy days; 
and that I should have been ass enough to suppose 
that when he came to me at Naples, an ex-convict, 
an undischarged bankrupt, and on a railway ticket 
that I had paid for, he could be financially useful 
to me is too ridiculous for words. Yet Ransome 
gets into "the Critical Study" the following choice 



130 Oscar Wilde and Myself 

sentences: "Soon after Wilde left Berneval for 
Naples, those who controlled the allowance that 
enabled him to live with his friend, purposely 
stopped it. His friend, as soon as there was no 
money, left him. 'It was,' said Wilde, 'a most bitter 
experience in a bitter life.' He went to Paris." The 
last sentence should have had an addendum: it 
should have read: "He went to Paris with two hun- 
dred pounds of Lord Alfred Douglas's money in his 
pocket, which had been sent to him per Mr. More 
Adey and the Marchioness of Queensberry." But 
it doesn't. Of course Wilde went to Paris — and he 
went the moment he heard I was proposing to live 
there. It was in December of 1897 that he came 
and took an apartment at a hotel in the Rue Mar- 
sollier. A few weeks later I came to Paris and 
became the tenant of a flat in the Avenue Kleber. 
He might just as well have lived at my flat for the 
use he made of his hotel except to sleep in. For a 
whole year — that is to say, down to the end of 1898 
— he used my flat as though it were his own, in- 
variably turning up at meal-times when he had 
nowhere else to lunch or dine, and never failing 
to extract from me a good deal more than I could, 
at that period, afford to give him in the way of 
money to tide him over his constant and ever- 
recurring "difficulties." I believe that from time 



Naples and Paris 131 

to time he picked up various sums of money on 
his own. In January or February of 1898 he pub- 
lished the '^Ballad of Reading GaoF' through 
Leonard Smithers; and later I believe he obtained 
some small advances of money from theatrical man- 
agers for plays which he was always going to write 
but of which he never produced a line. The rights 
of one of these he seems to have sold for sums 
varying from twenty to a hundred pounds to at 
least half a dozen different persons; and he also 
sold for small sums the plots of two plays and sev- 
eral short stories which have since been given to 
the public by another hand. But whatever money 
he got did him no good. A couple of hundred 
francs would take him away from his dinner at the 
Avenue Kleber to do himself well with a roaring 
company of boidevardiers; but the next day he was 
back at lunch, full of complaints of the hardness 
of the world and full of groans over his difficulties. 
I speedily came to consider him in the light of a 
permanent pensioner, and my servants had instruc- 
tions to give him food, and not infrequently lent 
him money in my absence. 

During 1899 and 1900 his condition went from 
bad to worse. At the end of 1899 I took a shooting- 
box in Scotland, jointly with my brother Douglas 
of Hawick, and I was in Scotland until the death 



132 Oscar Wilde and Myself 

of my father in January, 1900. I came into a 
considerable amount of money under my father's 
will, and the very first payment I made out of my 
inheritance was one hundred pounds, which I sent 
to Oscar Wilde in Paris. Out of this money he took 
a trip to Switzerland. By the time he came back 
I was at the Hotel Conde in Chantilly, where I had 
acquired a racing stable. Of course, I was often in 
Paris, and whenever I was there I made a point 
of asking Wilde to lunch or dine, and I never left 
him without handing him sums of money. My pass- 
books show that in a single year after the death 
of my father I gave Wilde nearly four hundred 
pounds in cheques alone: the figures appear in my 
bank-book and were proved at the Ransome trial: 
and I must have given him twice as much in hard 
cash or notes. At the very least penny, he had from 
me that year quite a thousand pounds over and 
above more or less constant entertainment. It was 
almost impossible for me to take a meal with him 
and keep money in my pocket. He would come to 
the restaurant or hotel where we were to meet with 
a dejected and depressed look on him, as who should 
say: "Behold, how we are harassed and reduced, 
and in what pain of mind we exist." I would give 
him of the best to cheer and comfort him, but his 
spirits insisted on remaining damp, and it was only 





^/' .« m'^ w 






1 


 _ * - 


^4.1 


^ 


< 








^ 


J 


^ 






> 


^ 








'^iH^^^^^^I 


pv''-^'-'"" '^w^jS^Bp 


I^H^I^^^^T^^^^^^ 


wyp 




flMfe ,^1- 






^SM^^^H^^^^^^^^^^^^^ 


^ -^=E^ Wl 




^^^^^^^^^IBL<^^I^^^B 



Naples and Paris 133 

with difficulty that one could get a smile out of him. 
When the time came for parting, if I put my hand 
in my pocket and handed him five or six hundred 
francs, well and good; if not, he would order an- 
other old brandy and open up a dreadful tale as to 
the condition of his bill at the hotel, the attitude 
of his landlord about it, and his own desperation 
and despair. In the end I got more or less into the 
habit of handing him what I proposed to give him 
before we proceeded to refresh ourselves. I found 
that by this means the old Oscar Wilde was brought 
to the front, and we could talk pleasantly together, 
as gentlemen should. 

I remember a certain occasion on which one of 
our sittings had been prolonged until a very late 
hour. I had taken the precaution to hand him a 
note for a thousand francs before we sat down to 
dine. He took his usual abundant share of the good 
things, and we talked and laughed over our string 
of liqueurs and let dull care go his own way. When 
I called for the bill, Wilde suddenly pulled a long 
and piteous face. "My dear boy," he said, ''money 
— ah ! — money. I hate to distress you, but I really 
must have a thousand francs now. I cannot return 
to my hotel unless I have with me money to pay at 
least a part of the bill. I don't mind telling you 
that I am without a penny in the world, and if I 



134 Oscar Wilde and Myself 

do not go to the hotel to-night I shall be homeless." 
''But, my dear Oscar/' I said, '1 have just given 
you a thousand francs, which you put in your 
pocket." He looked at me as one amazed and then 
burst into a fit of coughing laughter. I laughed too. 
Though he could have lived quite comfortably 
on what I gave him, and though he had, as we have 
seen, a weekly allowance which should at least have 
kept him from starvation, there can be no doubt 
that towards the end of his life Wilde underwent a 
certain amount of privation. He resorted to all 
sorts of desperate shifts to get money, and com- 
posed many very plausible begging letters; but, just 
as pretty well every decent door was shut to him, 
so people had begun to steel their hearts against 
him, especially as he was now drinking in a most 
reckless way and made no secret of the fact that 
he had once more given himself over to his old 
habits. He became a sort of show for the bohemi- 
ans of Paris ; the sport and mock of the Boulevard 
and the reproach of English letters in the City of 
Light. He got his dinners on credit, and borrowed 
money from waiters. His health was on the down 
grade in consequence of the intensification by alco- 
hol of a terrible disease he had contracted. He took 
to weeping and cursing at the slightest provocation, 
and, though his wit would flame out and his learn- 



Naples and Paris 135 

ing remained with him to the last, it was a poor 
wreck and shadow of himself which I saw from 
time to time when I went to Paris on various occa- 
sions in the year 1900. All through my acquaint- 
ance with him after his release from prison it had 
required a good deal of pluck to be seen about with 
him. He was known and notorious wherever we 
went, and I have seen men leave cafes because he 
had entered, and heard lulls in conversation and un- 
pleasant gibes when we have visited restaurants 
together. At some of the places which we fre- 
quented they would have turned him out had it not 
been for the fact that apparently they could not 
afford to turn me out. In his later period the feel- 
ing against him grew more and more pronounced. 
His companionships and resorts were of the vilest 
and his self-respect was almost entirely gone. 

Of Wilde's life in Paris before he began to break 
up, the following is a good sample daily itinerary : 
He would rise late, say at half-past eleven or twelve 
o'clock, and walk from his hotel in the Latin Quar- 
ter, through the Louvre to the Cafe de la Paix, 
where he would sit and drink aperitifs before going 
to lunch. In the afternoon he would go on to the 
Grand Cafe, where he would drink till dinner-time. 
The evening he generally spent where his friends 
might lead him, and some of them led him to pretty 



136 Oscar Wilde and Myself 

dreadful places. When I came to Paris from Chan- 
tilly, if I had not made an appointment with him 
beforehand I could always find him at the Grand 
Cafe or the Cafe de la Paix of a morning, or at 
the Cafe Jidien or the Calisaya Bar of an afternoon. 
So long as I remained in Paris he lunched and dined 
with me as a matter of course — Paillard's, Maire's, 
and the Cafe de la Paix being our chief resorts. At 
his meals he behaved always like a pleased child, 
provided, that is to say, you had put him into a 
decent humour with a present of money before- 
hand. He was the biggest eater I ever knew, and 
the only man I ever met in my life who could drink 
quantities of champagne at each meal and keep on 
doing it. He had a fine head for drink, and it was 
not until eighteen months or so before his death 
that he began to lose it. Intoxication would come 
over him suddenly and without apparent warning. 
He would rise from his seat and say: ''My dear 
fellow, I am sorry, but I perceive that I am drunk.'' 
Then he would call loudly for a cab and stumble 
forth. He made a great joke about these drunken 
fits, and one day said to me: /'I have made a won- 
derful discovery: I find that alcohol taken per- 
sistently and in sufficiently large quantities pro- 
duces all the efifects of intoxication," and so it 
certainly did. At Maire*s there was a real 1800 



Naples and Paris 137 

brandy, which had originally been laid down at the 
Tuileries. Wilde had some of it after a dinner 
there, and immediately began to make Maire's his 
home. The stuff cost five or six francs a glass, but 
this was nothing to Wilde if he happened to have 
money or was the guest of somebody else. He 
used to compliment the maitre d'hotel on this "ex- 
cellent brandy,'' and there was no getting him away 
from it. Wilde had few friends other than myself 
who could be of use to him financially. Frank 
Harris used to come over occasionally and take him 
to dine at Durmid's, and I know that Harris also 
obliged him with money. From time to time, too, 
he picked up odd acquaintances who had means and 
were disposed to show him kindness; but for the 
most part they were Americans, and their capacity 
for befriending the man whom one of them de- 
scribed as ''England's premier poet-dramatist" ex- 
hibited a great want of staying power. 

I was in Scotland shooting when I had a letter 
from Ross to say that Wilde was ill but that it was 
nothing serious. On the next day I got a telegram 
announcing that he was dead and asking what 
should be done in regard to his affairs. I went 
straight to Paris and to the Hotel d' Alsace, where 
Wilde lay dead. I there saw Ross and Turner. 
They told me that Wilde had no money. I promptly 



138 Oscar Wilde and Myself 

provided funds for the expenses of the moment 
and I paid for the funeral, at which Ross, Turner 
and myself were the only English mourners. After 
the funeral Ross handed me a list of small debts 
of Wilde's, consisting of unpaid dinner-bills and 
sums he had borrowed from waiters and such-like, 
the amount being between twenty and thirty pounds. 
These obligations I paid. 

When Wilde had been dead three years I re- 
ceived from a M. Du Bouche, dentist of Paris, a letter 
in which he pointed out that Wilde had owed him 
six hundred francs for professional services, and 
that the account had never been paid. I wrote to 
M. Du Bouche, advising him to apply to Mr. Adrian 
Hope, who, I understood, was Wilde's trustee. 
Later Du Bouche wrote to tell me that he had ap- 
plied to Mr. Adrian Hope, but that Mr. Hope pro- 
fessed to know nothing of Wilde's affairs or to be 
in any way responsible. In the face of this letter 
I paid M. Du Bouche six hundred francs in settle- 
ment of the account and got his receipt for it. There 
was no question at that time of Ross being Wilde's 
legal representative. Wilde made no will, but over 
and over again before he died he said to me: ''Of 
course, if I die first, you will look after my literary 
affairs." Ross was made literary executor of 
Wilde's estate in 1906 — six years after Wilde's 




HdTEL D' ALSACE, PARIS 



Naples and Paris 139 

death. After the funeral he came to me and said : 
''Wilde has left nothing but a tumble of old papers. 
I suppose yoii don't mind if I go through them?'' 
I told him to do what he thought best, and there the 
matter ended. Ross was a person whom Wilde and 
I found useful because he was always willing to 
attend to occasional matters of business for us 
which we were too indolent to attend to ourselves, 
and this was the light in which I regarded him when 
I acquiesced in the suggestion which he then made. 
One would think from the continual references to 
Wilde's allowance being paid to him ''through Mr. 
Ross" that Wilde was in some way in a condition 
of tutelage to Ross. As a matter of fact, Wilde 
arranged for the payment through Ross simply to 
save himself the trouble and annoyance of corre- 
sponding with his wife's solicitors. 



CHAPTER X 

THE '^BALLAD OF READING GAOL" 

IF Wilde is to last as a poet it will be on the 
strength of the ''Ballad of Reading Gaol/' 
The "Sphinx" may also endure, though its 
chances — for reasons which I shall explain in the 
chapter on Wilde's poetry, are not comparable with 
those of the "Ballad/' Criticism of the work itself 
is not entirely my present purpose. It is a work 
which stands out head and shoulders above any 
other of Wilde's performances by virtue of its 
human appeal and its relative freedom from defects 
which render the bulk of Wilde's poetry practically 
unreadable. It is singular, too, as being the only 
work of importance which Wilde completed after 
his imprisonment. There is a story, and I believe a 
true one, to the effect that before Wilde left prison 
a certain American journalist offered him a thou- 
sand pounds for a two hours' interview on the sub- 
ject of his prison experience. The offer is said to 
have been communicated to Wilde, and Wilde is 
understood to have replied, with some hauteur, that 

140 



The ^^Ballad of Reading Gaol" 141 

he was astonished that such a proposal "should be 
placed before a gentleman/' This was very fine 
talk, and it has been widely applauded by Wilde's 
admirers. I happen to know, however, that within 
three months of his release Wilde regretted bitterly 
that he had not closed with the American gentle- 
man's proposition. At the time the offer was made 
Wilde knew that he had eight hundred pounds be- 
hind him, and he had been given to understand that 
large sums of money would be subscribed for him 
by his troop of admiring friends outside. The eight 
hundred pounds were there, right enough, but the 
mammoth subscription, or whip round, resulted in 
the collection of little more than a hundred pounds, 
the major portion of which was contributed by 
Frank Harris. 

Wilde believed, also, that on his release he would 
find plenty of editors and publishers waiting for 
him, with hope in their eyes and fat cheques in their 
hands, and that he would be able to pick and choose 
among them in the matter of placing anything he 
might choose to say or write. Here again, how- 
ever, he was mistaken; nobody deemed it worth 
while to make a bid for a Wilde book or a Wilde 
play, and he went to France commissionless. 

As the beautiful Berneval weeks slipped away 
with the beautiful Berneval money, he began to 



142 Oscar Wilde and Myself 

have twinges of anxiety. He knew his world well 
and he knew that his world could do nothing for 
him. He had discovered, likewise, to his amaze- 
ment, that Oscar Wilde, even with two years' hard 
labour to his credit, was not in any large sense 
marketable whether from a journalistic or a liter- 
ary point of view. It was the general feeling of 
being ''out of it" which spurred him on to build up 
the "Ballad of Reading Gaol." I know for a fact 
that he made offers to be interviewed for much less 
than a thousand pounds to the editors of various 
newspapers in England and America, but no one 
came near him. All he could manage to do for him- 
self was to get certain letters printed in the Daily 
Chronicle, and for these, of course, he received 
nothing in the way of remuneration; so that the 
"Ballad of Reading Gaol" became important to him 
in a double sense. 

He had taken the line that he was still an artist 
and too securely placed in his art to condescend 
to "low interviewing." He also felt that his one 
chance of getting back into something approximat- 
ing to public favour was to produce some sort of 
a work of sustained and supreme power. This is 
why the "Ballad of Reading Gaol" is so long and 
so good. Wilde put all he knew and all he could 
into it. He even went to what was for him the fear- 



The ^'Ballad of Reading Gaol" 143 

ful and unthinkable length of truckling somewhat 
to the more ordinary human sentiments in the tone 
of the poem, and avoided, as far as he could, those 
idiosyncrasies of Wilde the verse-maker which had 
always provoked the expostulation of the critics 
and the contempt or laughter of the general public. 
As we have seen, the ''Ballad of Reading Gaol" was 
completed at Naples. I believe that Wilde was 
satisfied with every word of it. He had written to 
certain of his friends in England pooh-poohing it 
and pretending that it was in the manner of Sims ; 
but he knew perfectly well that fifty Sims rolled into 
one would not have produced such a poem, and his 
self-deprecations were intended to soften his aban- 
donment of the superior point of view rather than 
to express what he really felt. Having finished the 
poem, the next thing was to sell it. His thoughts 
turned to America, the land of hope and glory, and 
the land which had evolved that never-to-be-for- 
gotten live journalist with his thousand pounds for 
an interview. Wilde solemnly forwarded the "Bal- 
lad of Reading GaoF' to a New York paper, the 
name of which wild horses shall not drag out of 
me, and proffered it for dollars, and the New York 
paper proceeded solemnly to erect an everlasting 
monument to its own stupidity by promptly return- 
ing the MS. So that for the two or three months 



144 Oscar Wilde and Myself 

the ''Ballad of Reading Gaol'' was kicking about 
in the world, with nobody to publish it. In the 
meantime Wilde had gone to Paris, and he was 
there sought out by the late Leonard Smithers, a 
publisher who had done a great deal for Beardsley, 
Dowson, and a number of quaint "geniuses" whose 
names are now forgotten, and who had also pub- 
lished an unexpurgated edition of "Burton's Ara- 
bian Nights." Smithers took Wilde out to dinner, 
produced an immediate handful of louis, and told 
him that he was prepared to publish anything that 
he cared to write. The "Ballad of Reading Gaol" 
was raked out of a drawer and handed to Smithers, 
and Smithers published it in England in February, 
1898. The first edition consisted of eight hundred 
copies at two-and-sixpence, with thirty copies on 
Japanese vellum. Six further editions were called 
for in twelve or fourteen months, and Smithers sent 
from time to time various useful cheques for royal- 
ties. I believe that he also purchased the book 
rights of Wilde's plays, but that was the end of his 
great publishing schemes for Oscar Wilde, for 
Wilde produced nothing out of which a book could 
be made after the "Ballad." I may note that two 
or three years after Wilde's death Smithers, who 
by this time had fallen upon somewhat evil days, 
called on me and told me that he had drawings and. 



The "Ballad of Reading Gaol" 145 

if I remember rightly, plates for producing the 
'^Harlot's House" in a very sumptuous and dec- 
orative form. The drawings were by Miss Althea 
Giles, and seemed to me to be very fine. With a 
view of giving both Miss Giles and Smithers a lift, 
I and a friend of mine put up the money Smithers 
required to go on with the publication. The ''Har- 
lot's House" had never been published in a book, 
though it had appeared in some obscure periodical. 
It did not occur to me that there could be any 
objection to Smithers publishing the book, which 
is a trifle in itself, and no more than thirty-six lines 
long. However, the next I heard about it was that 
Ross had stepped in, in his capacity of 'literary 
executor," and stopped the publication. Ross did 
this without so much as referring to me in the 
matter, though, as far as I knew, we were on terms 
of friendship at the time. I suppose this is an in- 
stance of what Mr. Sherard calls "keeping a level 
commercial head in looking after Wilde's estate!" 



CHAPTER XI 

THE TRUTH ABOUT "dE PROFUNDIS" 

IN 1905 there was given to the world with a 
great flourish of trumpets a book entitled "De 
Profundis," which purported to be a work by 
Oscar Wilde. To this book Robert Ross supplied 
the preface. It will be necessary for us to examine 
this preface very thoroughly. Ross commences by 
explaining that for a long time curiosity had been 
expressed about the manuscript of "De Profundis/' 
"which was known to be in my possession, the 
author having mentioned the existence to many 
other friends." 

Presuming that Wilde mentioned the existence 
of this MS. to any of his other friends, I very much 
doubt whether he ever explained to them the nature 
of its contents. He no more dared do this than 
he dared have attempted to publish it, for he knew 
perfectly well that if he had told many other friends, 
whispers of his vileness and duplicity would have 
been sure to get round to me, and there might have 
been an end of my friendship and an end of my 
gifts. 

146 



About ''De Profundis" 147 

At our first meeting after his release Wilde told 
me that he had ''a hideous confession to make/' 
He said that while he was in prison he had been 
told that I was no longer loyal to him and that 
I had expressed contempt for his sufiferings. He 
said that he knew now that this was not true, but 
that it had preyed on his mind, and he had allowed 
it to anger him to such an extent that he had writ- 
ten me a very fierce and abominable letter and had 
it forwarded by Ross. I told him that I had a 
recollection of having received a copy of some such 
letter (not the letter itself) from Ross and with it 
a covering letter from Ross in which he said how 
sorry he was to have to send Wilde's letter, but that 
Wilde was apparently more or less out of his mind 
in consequence of the treatment he had received in 
prison, and was disposed to quarrel with every- 
body, and that he (Ross) hoped that I should take 
no notice of what he was sending. I threw the copy 
of Wilde's letter into the fire and I wrote to Ross 
to tell him to mind his own business, and to point 
out that if Wilde had anything to say to me he 
could say it in his own handwriting. So that when 
Wilde opened up his "hideous confession" I nat- 
urally thought that he was referring to the letter 
Ross had sent me, and I said: ''My dear Oscar, I 
never read more than three or four lines of the 



148 Oscar Wilde and Myself 

wretched thing. I gathered that it was an ill- 
tempered letter and threw it into the fire. Don^t 
let us talk any more about it. I quite understand 
how you must have felt, but it is all over now and 
there is nothing more to be said." It struck me, at 
the moment, as curious that Wilde should be want- 
ing to make confessions as to having written a 
letter which he knew I had received, but I had no 
wish to pursue unpleasant matters, and the con- 
versation dropped. From that day forward, though 
he was continually in my company and continually 
accepting kindnesses at my hand, he never breathed 
a single word about unpleasant letters or secret 
manuscripts or anything of the kind. It has been 
suggested by people who wish to make out that I 
had a copy of "De Profundis'' sent to me in Wilde's 
lifetime that the letter which I received through 
Ross and burned was, in fact, ''De Profundis," but 
this cannot be so, for the very simple reason that 
"De Profundis" is a fifty-thousand-word manu- 
script, whereas the letter I burned covered only sev- 
eral sides of ordinary letter paper in Ross's hand- 
writing. I fail to see how Wilde's position is in 
the least degree improved even if it were granted 
that I had received a copy of the "De Profundis" 
manuscript; but, as a fact, I did not receive it. 
Ross goes on to tell us that Wilde had instructed 



About '*De Profundis'' 149 

him to publish ''De Profundis/' Those instruc- 
tions, Mr. Ross tells us, were contained in a letter 
from Wilde written to him, obviously from prison. 
Part of this letter Mr. Ross has published in ''De 
Profundis,'' but he omitted the passages which gave 
him the actual instructions. I should have much 
liked to have seen these, for they might have thrown 
some light on Wilde's action in leaving behind him 
in the hands of others a posthumous libel on a man 
who had been his friend up to and during his prison 
period, and to whom he afterwards turned for 
assistance and refuge. 

It was not till ''De Profundis" was announced 
to be forthcoming by the press that I ever knew 
that Wilde had left behind him an unpublished 
manuscript of any sort or kind. When I learnt 
that there was a manuscript and that it was to 
be published under the editorship of Ross I was 
very much astonished. Wilde had never spoken 
to me of any manuscript which would be long 
enough to make a book; neither had Ross, and 
neither had anybody else. I was so astonished 
that I went round to see Ross, who at that time 
kept a picture shop in Ryder Street. I said to 
him : "What is all this about an unpublished manu- 
script by Wilde? There is no such manuscript/' 
He said: ''Oh, yes, there is." I said: 'Then why 



150 Oscar Wilde and Myself 

have you not told me of it before? and why did 
Wilde not tell me of it?'' Ross said: '1 wanted 
to keep it as a surprise." This struck me as being 
rather strange, and I said : ''Wilde was hard up and 
keen on selling anything that he could get rid of. 
Why should he not have published it himself?" 
Ro^s replied: "He didn't do that because the MS. 
consists of a long letter. It contains a lot of dis- 
agreeable writing about you and other people, but I 
have cut this out, and what is left makes a nice little 
book." I said that it seemed a very extraordinary 
thing that nobody should have heard of this before, 
but Ross assured me that he would publish nothing 
that would hurt Wilde's reputation and that the 
book would do him good, and there the matter 
ended. When "De Profundis" was published there 
was not a word to indicate that it had been ad- 
dressed to me and not to Ross at all, and the oppo- 
site deduction is one which the reader of the preface 
may fairly draw. For example, Ross quotes Wilde 
as saying that the privilege of writing to Ross at 
great length was one for which he was grateful to 
the Governor of the prison. Moreover, this im- 
pression still remains. Holbrooke Jackson, in his 
book "The Eighteen-Nineties" (published 1913), 
writes of Wilde: "During his imprisonment he 
wrote 'De Profundis' in the form of a long letter 



About ''De Profundis" 151 

to his friend Robert Ross." ''De Profundis'' was 
published in 1895, and I never knew till 1912 — 
seventeen years later, when the Ransome case was 
toward — that it was really addressed to me and that 
the unpublished parts were still in existence and 
amounted to more than half of the whole manu- 
script. Still less did I dream that the unpublished 
moiety — as any reader of the reports of the Ran- 
some trial can see for himself — contained gross 
libels on myself or that the British Museum authori- 
ties had kindly consented to accept it as a present 
to the nation without so much as consulting any of 
us. I leave the facts as I have set them forth to the 
judgment of the public. 

The existence of the ''De Profundis" manuscript 
forces us to one of two alternatives : Wilde, accord- 
ing to Ross, wished it to be published and gave it 
to Ross with a view to publication, never afterwards 
changing his mind on the subject or desiring that 
the manuscript should be destroyed. In that case 
he has exhibited a perfidy which is without parallel 
in history, inasmuch as for three years after, leav- 
ing prison and right up till the time of his death 
he professed to be my devoted and attached friend 
and accepted in friendship what I was very pleased 
to give in friendship. 

The other alternative is that, on leaving prison 



152 Oscar Wilde and Myself 

and finding that he had been misinformed as to my 
attitude toward him, he repented the writing of 
this manuscript and intended it to be destroyed, but 
failed to cancel his instructions. 

While the Ransome case was pending I wrote 
Ross a letter setting out the facts stated above, 
namely, that I had never any idea that "De Pro- 
fundis'' was a letter addressed to me or that it had 
any connection with the letter which Ross had sent 
me in 1897. I also informed him of Wilde's soli- 
tary reference to the letter, which I have previously 
referred to. I expected Ross to give me some reply 
by way of explanation, but received none. I con- 
sider that, in view of the circumstances, he might 
have taken the opportunity of ridding the memory 
of his friend of what, in the absence of such an 
explanation, must be regarded by all fair-minded 
persons as an act of cowardly and abominable 
treachery. As it is, seeing how zealous an adherent 
of Wilde Ross is, I am forced to the conclusion that 
Wilde was playing the Judas with me all the time 
we were together at Naples and all the time that he 
was lunching and dining and "meeting his diffi- 
culties" at my expense in Paris. 

Before proceeding to refute charges brought 
against me at the Ransome trial, based on Wilde's 
posthumous libel, I should like to enquire whether 



About "De Profundis" 153 

it can be considered proper, either on literary 
grounds or on grounds of public policy, that a book 
like ''De Profundis" should be given to the world 
at all. Mr. Ransome tells us that the book is com- 
posed of passages from a long letter the complete 
publication of which would be impossible in this 
generation. "The passages were selected and put 
together,'' he adds, ''by Mr. Robert Ross, with a 
skill that it is impossible sufficiently to admire.'' 
Quite so. But it can be demonstrated out of the 
text that Mr. Ross's selectings and puttings- 
together have, in the net result, entirely deceived 
the public, not only with regard to the nature and 
intentions of "De Profundis" as a book, but also 
with regard to Wilde's own character and his atti- 
tude towards his own misfortune. What right has 
Mr. Ross or any other person, no matter how skilled, 
to indulge in this kind of literary liberty? Despite 
what Wilde himself said to the contrary, it is always 
important that we should know as much as is pos- 
sible to be known about any man who sets up to 
teach us, and especially is this so in the case of an 
author like Wilde, whose whole writings amount 
really to a sort of personal statement. Mr. Ross 
recognises this much, because in his version of "De 
Profundis" he offers no samples of Wilde the 
vituperative spitter-out of venom or of Wilde the 



154 Oscar Wilde and Myself 

braggart and vain boaster, such as appear in the 
reports of the Ransome trial, but shows us simply 
the Wilde who weeps profusely and swears that he 
has turned saint. ''And I do this,'' says Ross, in 
his preface, "hoping that my efforts will give many 
readers a different impression of the witty and de- 
lightful writer." The ''different impression" has 
obviously resulted. Wilde emerges from the mire 
a gracious, suffering, forgiving, magnanimous fig- 
ure. The extracts from Wilde's own manuscript, 
read and relied on by the counsel for the defendant 
in the Ransome trial, prove him to have been noth- 
ing of the kind, and, for that matter, the direct 
opposite. On literary grounds alone we are surely 
entitled to protest against such a dangerous viola- 
tion of the normal editorial function. If we are to 
take "De Profundis" for an approved precedent, a 
literary executor is justified in treating a dead 
man's inedited manuscripts in such a way that he 
is made to say only half of what he really did say, 
and so made to appear the direct opposite of what 
he really was. On public grounds one is entitled 
to protest even more strongly. We have, in Wilde, 
a person of careless and vicious life, whose talents 
were always carelessly and at times viciously em- 
ployed. Such a man was almost, in the nature of 
things, bound to come to a miserable and degraded 



About "De Profundis" 155 

end. Wilde ended up in prison for his offences, 
and if he had really repented and had really written 
"De Profundis," as published without the sup- 
pressed portion, and lived out the rest of his life in 
a decent way, it would have been possible and proper 
for us to forgive and forget a great deal ; but, unless 
he has maligned himself most madly, he never did 
repent, and it is certain that ''De Profundis,'' as 
published, does not represent his sentiments or his 
nature. The result has been that a false and 
specious glamour has been put upon the aim and 
trend of Wilde's life and writings, and very gen- 
erally the apologia contained in the bowdlerised "De 
Profundis" is regarded as a sufficient ''Apologia pro 
Vita sua," 

Commenting on the reading of the unpublished 
parts of "De Profundis" at the Ransome trial, the 
Outlook said: 

'Those who heard its unpublished portions . . . 
fall from the lips of the learned junior counsel for 
the defence, or even those who had to be content 
with such portions their newspapers gave them, had 
the unusual experience of sharing the privileges 
reserved for posterity. They have added to their 
knowledge of the last prose work of Oscar Wilde ; 
indeed, they have gained their first true knowledge 
of the form in which it left his pen. They know 



156 Oscar Wilde and Myself 

that it begins 'Dear Bosie,' and ends 'Your affec- 
tionate friend, Oscar Wilde/ but it is not always 
either friendly or affectionate. They know that 
there are parts — about meals and the influenza and 
the respect that is due to a great artist — 'and espe- 
cially such an artist as I am' — that are not an ex- 
pression of the mood which gave to the world the 
well-known parts about Christ. They have learned, 
for the first time, that some parts have been taken 
and that other parts have been left — to the nation. 
In the parts that have been taken, and strung, like 
beads, on a new string, to form the book the world 
knows, they have learned that the 'you' addressed 
is not general and impersonal, but the friend who, 
whatever the rights and wrongs of last week, has 
at least written poetry that is better than Wilde's 
own, in spite of the mood of scolding superiority in 
which the letter seems to have begun." 

It has been suggested that the article from which 
this passage is an extract was written by my friend 
T. W. H. Crosland and inserted in The Outlook 
through the influence of George Wyndham. Any- 
body who is acquainted with London journalism 
knows that Mr. Crosland has had nothing to do 
with The Outlook since he resigned the Literary 
Editorship of that journal in 1902; and Mr. Wynd- 
ham ceased to have any interest in the paper some 



About '*De Profundis" 157 

months later. The author of the article is, so far 
as I am aware, entirely unknown to me, and, in any 
case, it was not written by my desire or inspiration. 
I have already referred to certain charges against 
me, in support of which passages from the unpub- 
lished parts of "De Profundis'' were put to me at 
the Ransome trial, and shown how preposterous 
they are. I had an opportunity, at the time of the 
Ransome trial, of reading a copy of the manuscript 
with great care ; and I say advisedly that, in so far 
as it concerns me, I had great difficulty in finding a 
single statement which could not be demonstrated 
to be utterly, deliberately and ridiculously false. If 
Mr. Robert Ross will remove his embargo I am 
open to print the whole of such portions of ''De Pro- 
fundis,'' word for word and line for line, with plain 
demonstrations of the absolute malice and contempt 
for the truth that Wilde has exhibited right through 
the piece. As it is, at present I am prevented from 
quoting or even from paraphrasing any portions 
owing to the legal steps taken by Mr. Ross. But, in 
order that it may never be suggested that I fear or 
admit the charges brought against me in the Ran- 
some trial, and to clear myself from them, I propose 
to deal with the more serious of them (not already 
dealt with in Chapter VIII) as assertions of fact 
and not even by way of paraphrase of the precious 



158 Oscar Wilde and Myself 

MS. I should have preferred to put these charges 
into Wilde's own words, and so have given my 
posthumous libeller every opportunity of couching 
his attack in his own way and with all the master's 
skill. But Mr. Ross has prevented this by obtain- 
ing an injunction against me. I do not think, how- 
ever, that either he or the law can prevent me from 
dealing with allegations of fact made against me 
in cross-examination qua allegations of fact. 

I have already referred to the falseness of 
Wilde's charge that I hampered his work, and that 
when I was by he was sterile. I had to meet the 
charge, in particular, that when he was pressed to 
deliver "The Ideal Husband" he had to wait till 
I was away and then got on famously. When I 
returned, ''all work had to be abandoned." This 
assertion is wantonly wrong. When Wilde was in 
working mood he worked and I never attempted 
to take him away from it. The play was read to 
me scene by scene and line by line, and so far from 
my having delayed its completion I materially 
assisted it. If one were disposed to be flippant and 
to admit that Wilde gives a correct description of 
our daily programme at St. James' Place, one might 
enquire why — if he found it impossible to work in 
the atmosphere of his own quiet and peaceful house- 
hold and found it equally impossible to work at St. 



About "De Profundis" 159 

James' Place because of my interruptions — he never 
locked the door of St. James' Place, never contrived 
to be out, and never omitted to send me telegrams 
of enquiry and letters of pleasant rebuke if I hap- 
pened to miss calling upon him. Wilde was too 
keen an artist to allow anything or anybody to come 
between him and what he would call a realisable 
mood. The truth is that he would begin a work 
with great zeal and fury and apply himself to it and 
to the contemporaneous consumption of cigarettes 
and whiskies till he became utterly exhausted. As 
a rule, he completed what he had begun in a series 
of spurts and with periods of easy donothingness 
between whiles. On the other hand, there were 
occasions when he got stuck, and he got stuck over 
more than one of his plays. This is merely to say 
that he was like any other artist ; to blame me for 
it is childish or lunatic — whichever you will. Wilde 
began 'The Sphinx'' — a work of which he was in- 
ordinately proud — when he was little more than 
twenty years of age : he was thirty-eight before he 
finished it, and then, apparently, he had to call in 
no less a poet than Robert Harborough Sherard, 
author of "Whispers," to help him out with rhymes 
ending with "ar." Sherard tells us with great pomp 
and pride that he suggested ''nenuphar" — a sub- 
stantive of Greek origin, which had been worn to 



160 Oscar Wilde and Myself 

death by precious poets before either Wilde or 
Sherard was born, but the sudden and glorious dis- 
covery of which by Sherard appears to have trans- 
ported them both into the seventh heaven. 

It is absolutely untrue that my mother, the 
Dowager Marchioness of Queensberry, ever in- 
formed Wilde at Bracknell that I was 'Vain," or 
''wrong about money/' My mother has never been 
in the habit of discussing the characters of those 
near and dear to her with anybody, much less with 
comparative strangers. On his own showing, 
Wilde scarcely knew me at this period, and on the 
only occasion he was at my mother's house near 
Bracknell there were a dozen other guests staying 
in the house, and his conversations with my mother 
would be of the very slightest, and amount, so far 
as she was concerned, to the merest civilities when 
they met at lunch or dinner. My mother is still 
alive and, whether at Bracknell or anywhere else, 
she did not say to Wilde what he professes she said. 
It is the same with the charge that our residence 
at Goring, where I was well known, cost him a fab- 
ulous sum. If this is so, seeing that we shared 
expenses of the Goring establishment, Wilde ap- 
pears to have let me off exceedingly cheaply for 
my half-share; for I do not recollect that it cost me 
more than twenty or thirty pounds a month, exclud- 




RAYMOND WILFRID SHOLTO DOUGLAS, ONLY CHILD OF LORD 

ALFRED DOUGLAS, BORN 17TH NOVEMBER, 1902 

(AGED NINE IN THE PHOTOGRAPH) 



About ''De Profundis" 161 

ing the rent, of which I never heard, inasmuch as 
Wilde professed that the house had been lent to him 
by a well-known member of the Peerage. If thir- 
teen hundred pounds were spent by Wilde at Goring 
during those three months, all I can say is that at 
least twelve hundred must have gone in rent; for 
we lived very simply there, and there were no res- 
taurants into which one could be lured to a meal 
which would cost ''a whole sovereign." So Goring 
won't do, any more than the five thousand pounds 
worth of ortolans and Perrier Jouet. One other 
small matter and I shall have done with this part 
of the subject. 

I deny emphatically that I gambled and lost at 
Algiers and expected him to pay my losses. At 
the time Wilde and I went to Algiers together I 
had just come into some money, and I took a suite 
of rooms at the best hotel in the place. Wilde 
stayed there with me, and I paid the hotel bill my- 
self. There was not, so far as I am aware, a tripot 
or other gambling place — much less a Casino — in 
Algiers at that period, so that neither of us could 
gamble even if we had wished to. Wilde returned 
to London before me for business reasons ; but the 
business was entirely his own and had nothing to 
do with me, and I lent him fifteen pounds to pay 
his fare home. By some aberration or other he 



162 Oscar Wilde and Myself 

actually returned me this money, paying a cheque 
for the amount into my account in London. In all 
the literature of the subject, that is to say, in all the 
pass-books, banking accounts, business and private 
letters, and so forth, that are in existence or ever 
did exist, this is the sole and only instance of Wilde 
ever paying a sum of money to me; whereas it could 
be demonstrated out of the same documents that I 
paid a very great many sums to Wilde. In the safe 
seclusion of Reading Gaol he sits, tearfully peni- 
tent, and remembers that fifteen pounds, which, no 
doubt, loomed up in his memory like a shot-tower. 
He catches at it, gleefully, and uses it as a peg 
on which to hang a false, preposterous, lying story 
about meeting my gambling debts in a place where 
there is no gambling. At the back of his mind he 
knew that nothing of the kind ever occurred, yet the 
fifteen pound payment might have lent colour to 
the statement if it came to be investigated after my 
death. And that was all the colour he had for his 
pretty statement. 

I have no wish to be uncharitable to this man 
who, doubtless, suffered, and suffered severely. 
Nobody could read the complete "De Profundis" 
without perceiving that imprisonment destroyed 
Wilde's moral fibre and crushed his spirit to such 
an extent that he became a sort of Mrs. Gummidge 



About "De Profundis'' 163 

who felt everything ''more than you do." I am 
forced to think — and, to be quite frank, I try to 
think — that Wilde cannot have been mentally re- 
sponsible when he wrote this stupid and abominable 
manuscript. That I am not alone in my opinion 
of what confinement and bitter discipline were do- 
ing for him will be evident from the following letter 
which I received from a close friend of Ross's at 
the time when Wilde was supposed to be angry with 
me. The letter is dated from a house which was at 
that time occupied by Ross and the writer of the 
letter. 

"My Dear Bosie, 

''Your letter distresses me, for I can say 
so little to comfort you and I would do all I can. 
You will know by this time that I had seen Oscar 
before I received your letter. I saw him on Sat- 
urday, 30th November, the very day you wrote, 
and I only got your letter to-day, Tuesday. You 
must not think that I do not know what Oscar's 
change towards you must be to you, but Robbie 
will tell you that from the very first I never be- 
lieved that it was more than a passing delirium 
of gaol moral fever. I naturally minimised to you 
and Robbie, when I wrote, the horrors of the gen- 
eral prison surroundings, but I have seen them, 



164 Oscar Wilde and Myself 

and am confirmed in my belief that no man like 
Oscar who is subject to them can be considered 
capable of exercising his ordinary mental or moral 
faculties. What he says now no more expresses 
his proper natural feelings than do the ravings of 
a man in delirium. I am certain that his mind has 
very much suflfered, but I think from what I have 
heard of him before, and what I have seen of him, 
that he is better ; and I think that he is conscious 
that he must make efforts to prevent his mind 
suffering more, because he was so very anxious to 
get some rather drudging mental work to do, in 
order to occupy and, in a sort of way, discipline 
his mind. In former interviews he spoke of you 
just as a lunatic or a man in delirium does of the 
people they love best, but the other day he did not 
do so; he merely complained of some letter which 
you had written to him or to the Governor (I sup- 
pose of Wandsworth) which he had heard of but 
was not allowed to see. I told him that I was cer- 
tain that you would write no more. He has to be 
talked to as a person very slowly recovering from 
delirium. I could not have said anything to dis- 
tress him. Just think, he has only one half-hour in 
the awful weeks of hideous prison life. You must 
try to show the love which I know you have for 
him, by the most difficult of all ways — waiting," 



About "De Profundis" 165 

There may be- — and probably is — a good deal to 
be said for the view herein set forward, and it 
would be inhuman not to make all necessary allow- 
ances. But we are still left face to face with the 
unchallengeable fact that Wilde was sane enough 
when he came out of prison; that his health was 
on the whole improved by his sojourn there; and 
that for three years he kept up his friendship with 
me, and lived to a great extent on my bounty ; and 
that he never said a single word about the disgrace- 
ful document which Mr. Ross has so generously be- 
stowed upon the nation. 



CHAPTER XII 

MY LETTERS TO WILDE 

THE law as to property in letters appears 
to be in a very confused and amazing con- 
dition. Letters, though lightly penned by 
most people and considered to be of trifling impor- 
tance, are nearly always far more important than 
they look. If I had been cautious and worldly- 
wise I suppose that the letters which I wrote to 
Oscar Wilde or, at any rate, those which were 
produced by favour of Ross at the Ransome trial, 
would never have been written. The fact that they 
were written, however, cannot be denied, and, for 
many reasons, I am not sorry that they were 
brought up against me. I knew that some such 
letters existed, and I was told before the trial came 
on that they would be produced and that they would 
ruin me. Well, to the great consternation and 
amazement of the parties immediately concerned 
I went into the witness-box and ''faced the music," 
and I was not ruined. By a coincidence, it hap- 
pened that I had various difficulties of litigation 

i66 



My Letters to Wilde 167 

round about the time of the Ransome trial, and 
rumour had it that those troubles were in some way 
bound up with the Wilde affair. As a fact, they 
had nothing to do with it, and were quite indepen- 
dent of it, and even the endeavour to create a public 
impression that my wife had left me because of the 
Ransome trial proved utterly futile. The unfortu- 
nate differences between myself and Lady Alfred 
Douglas arose out of matters of settlements and 
the education of our child, and, lest my enemies 
should lay the flattering unction to their souls that 
they have succeeded in separating us, I may men- 
tion here and now that my wife and I are no longer 
at variance and that our reconciliation was brought 
about by our two selves after the trial and not 
before it. In the witness-box I made no bones about 
condemning the two letters of mine which were 
raked up to show that I had a bad influence over 
Wilde's mind. I shall not attempt to justify them 
here, and I shall not abate my opinion of them one 
jot or tittle. They are letters which I am ashamed 
to have written and which I ought to have a good 
deal too much sense to write. They have not been 
printed in the press and I shall not reproduce them 
here, any more than I would think of reproducing 
similar letters written by Wilde and his friends. I 
do not think, however, that any man of the world 



168 Oscar Wilde and Myself 

who perused them could fail to recognise that they 
were letters written more or less in a jocular spirit, 
and that they were plainly not the letters of the 
kind of person some people have been gracious 
enough to wish to make me out. At school, the 
universities, and even in clubs, men who are not 
considered by any means wicked men make jokes, 
exchange jokes, and tell stories which, one takes it, 
would very much shock Mr. Justice Darling if they 
happened to come to his polite ears. There are per- 
sons of the highest positions in all walks of life — 
not even forgetting the immaculate and stainless 
profession of the law — who in their day and gen- 
eration could swap coarse jokes with any stable-boy, 
and who, over their wine, are not above indulging in 
a trifle of witty obscenity, even yet. Everybody 
knows this, and nobody pretends that it is other- 
wise, or that it is ever likely to be otherwise. The 
only place where you get such a pretence is in the 
law courts, when Counsel wishes to "eviscerate" 
somebody. The pretence was well kept up at the 
Ransome trial by all parties concerned and as I 
have said before, I do not in the least complain but 
am rather glad than otherwise. For the improper 
is obviously the improper wherever you encounter 
it, and there is no reason why my impropriety should 
be extenuated while the next man's is punished. I 



My Letters to Wilde 169 

punished myself for my offences against decency 
and good taste by standing up and having them read 
out to me twenty years after they were written. I 
could have run away from them if I had wished to, 
but I stood my ground and took my gruel with a 
short spoon. The result has been exactly what one 
was entitled to expect that it would be. I have not 
lost a single friend or come across a single cold 
shoulder as the result of Mr. Ross's letter-preserv- 
ing charitableness. My cousin, the late Right Hon- 
ourable George Wyndham, m.p., than whom no 
more honourably-minded man existed, wrote to me 
immediately after the trial and told me that he 
had followed it closely, and that nothing had hap- 
pened which was to make any difference between 
himself and myself, and he added that, not only 
in his opinion but in the opinion of many persons 
with whom he had talked, I had been abominably 
treated. Of course, it is preposterous to say that 
my influence over Wilde was a bad influence. If 
the letters produced to prove it prove anything at 
all, they prove, rather, that Wilde's influence over 
me was a bad one, and a very bad one at that. Any 
one who knows me must be well aware that, when it 
came to the question of his ultimate vices, such influ- 
ence as I had over him was on the side of goodness 
and decency rather than otherwise. In all his cun- 



170 Oscar Wilde and Myself 

ning, overweening and merciless desire to damage 
and destroy me, Wilde could never find it in his heart 
to set down the last unthinkable lie. He knew that 
if he did that he would be blankly sinning against 
the Holy Ghost, and, hate me as he would, and rage 
and rage as he would, he could not bring himself 
to take the terrible risks. Nowhere in all this out- 
pouring of hate does he dare to come out with the 
accusation which would put me outside the pale 
of social possibility. That he was quite willing to 
have shouted that accusation out at the top of his 
voice if there had been the slightest ground for it 
is only too evident from the general drift of what 
he has to say. If by a deft ambiguity he can get 
in the hint that will hurt me without going the 
length of the rankest perjury he gets it in. It is 
plain on every showing that our friendship was a 
harmless and proper friendship and that our life 
together was harmlessly, if, perhaps, somewhat ex- 
travagantly, lived; and two things have always to 
be remembered: first, that during our friendship, 
whether despite me or otherwise, Wilde did un- 
doubtedly produce the best of his plays and the finest 
of his poems, indeed, the only poem which is likely 
to live; while, during the same friendship, I, for 
my part, produced the bulk of the poetry con- 
tained in the "City of the Soul.'* There is nothing 



My Letters to Wilde 171 

in any of the work produced by Wilde during the 
time that we were together of which he need be 
ashamed, and there is nothing in the "City of the 
Soul" of which I need be ashamed. On the con- 
trary, Wilde's reputation, in so far as it is a pure 
literary reputation, has been largely built up on the 
work to which I refer, whereas it is largely by my 
own work during that period that I shall stand or 
fall so far as posterity is concerned. How dare 
people assail and defame an association of this 
kind ? I print below two letters which were sent to 
me by Mr. George Wyndham immediately after the 
Ransome trial. 

I leave the parties concerned to make the best 
they can of an outside opinion, and to meditate with 
what gratification they may on their ''base thing.*' 



Jn^ ^^j^ £^A /.^ ^^ 
•&^7 q ^ ^^^^ ^^ ^^ ,^^_ 






^f-* 



ix^ ^l/^ tf^^tCr. ifuT* ^V /-vir* 



^ f^^^< /.i^ /; ^ 



^:2-*-. *^ 



^tc^U, i/7t^y^ dt p {/a^cJT 



*-*-A. 






44. BELORAVe SQUARE, 



9t . /Vr /2, 



/^^^^^ ^^/:.^-< '^'^''^^ 









l,j^SL>^^ yUZJ^^ "^^-lA.^*-*-! y 



CHAPTER XIII 

MY LETTERS TO LABOUCHERE 

THAT the late Henry Labouchere was a good 
deal of a blackguard is well known, but he 
was one of those blackguards who man- 
aged to get into the House of Commons and, as 
impudence was a gift with him, he made some repu- 
tation there. When Gladstone proposed to give 
him a Cabinet appointment, however. Queen Vic- 
toria calmly drew her pen through his name. Glad- 
stone gasped, but Labouchere did not become a 
Minister of the Crown. Labby's strength lay in 
his money. A poorer rogue would not have been 
tolerated, even in the House of Commons. And 
Labby's weakness was Truth — the paper, not the 
abstraction. Labouchere always made a great point 
of running Truth in the interests of public morality. 
For quack doctors, begging-letter writers, and cer- 
tain classes of bookmakers and money-lenders he 
had, invariably, abundant stripes; but for the very 
big fish Henry Labouchere had a confirmed respect 

179 



180 Oscar Wilde and Myself 

and was most careful to say nothing about them 
and do nothing to them — unless they happened to 
fall, when he would rush in and deliver a few kicks. 
It is not astonishing that as soon as Oscar Wilde 
came to grief Henry Labouchere should have 
hastened to put in his bit of kicking. While Wilde 
was flaunting himself about town and "going 
strong/' Labby found it convenient to let him alone, 
even though "there were rumours" — and Truth was 
nothing if not an investigator of rumours. In his 
hey-dey, therefore, Labby would say no word that 
was evil of Wilde, though he poked fun at him. But 
the moment Mr. Justice Wills hands out two years' 
hard labour and Wilde is down and past mortal 
chance of getting up again, forth comes Labby, 
with his silly little patent-leather boots and his 
dirty little dagger, and Wilde is kicked and stabbed 
without mercy. Incidentally, too, Labby took the 
opportunity to refer to me as a "young scoundrel" 
and to accuse me of deserting my friend in his 
trouble. I wrote and pointed out that, so far from 
deserting Wilde, I was the one and only friend of 
his who remained faithful to him after his arrest, 
and visited him daily in prison, and when he was up 
at Bow Street Police Station ; and I went on to ex- 
press my opinion of the mean and unnecessary 
venom of Labby's attacks on a man who was down 



My Letters to Labouchere 181 

and unable to defend himself. It is characteristic 
of Labouchere that, while he was too much of a 
coward to print my letters in full, and was content 
to publish only that part of one of them in which 
I defended myself against his charge of deserting 
my friend, he was careful to preserve them. 
Eighteen years after they were written Truth 
turned up in court with them to be used against 
me in a matter with which Truth was not in any 
way concerned. I presume that they were produced 
under subpoena, though how their existence became 
known to Mr. Ransome remains a mystery. With 
that fine sense of what is fitting which distinguishes 
him, Mr. Justice Darling explained that the people 
who have kept and produced my letters are not to be 
blamed, "inasmuch," said his lordship, "as they are 
only doing what they are paid to do," which is 
somewhat cryptic, but is possibly meant to be funny. 
However, I really do not care "tuppence" who 
treasures these letters of mine. The only point is 
that somehow it seems un-English and unsports- 
manlike. As for the letters themselves, they failed 
entirely in the object to which they were put by 
Ransome's lawyers. I cannot find that it was 
thought wise to print extracts from them in the 
newspapers at the time of the trial. And, as I 
have not got possession of them and am apparently 



182 Oscar Wilde and Myself 

not entitled to possession of them, I cannot print 
them here, even if I were disposed to do so. I know 
what is in them, however, and there is no reason 
why I should not summarise them. The letters 
contain the stock arguments of those apologists 
for the perversion to which Wilde was addicted 
which were current at the time. They point out 
that vice of this character was rampant in the West 
End of London and at certain public schools and 
universities, and that Labby had not said a word 
about it in his wonderful paper — Truth, The letters 
also quote or epitomise sundry medical and scien- 
tific views on the subject. That is all. What I 
had to say I said plainly and without beating about 
the bush, and, while I should not write such letters 
to-day, there is nothing about them which is greatly 
to my discredit. During the whole time of the trial 
there sat in court the author of the following state- 
ment : '^It is a matter of common observation among 
physiologists that where a child is born to a couple 
in which the woman has the much stronger nature 
and a great mental superiority over the father, the 
chances are that the child will develop at certain 
critical periods in his career an extraordinary at- 
traction towards persons of its own sex. This fact 
is one of Nature's mysteries. Those who believe 
in a Divine Creation of the world should reverently 



My Letters to Labouchere 183 

bow their heads before what they cannot under- 
stand and ought to take to be a divine dispensation. 
At any rate, the wisdom of Nature may be pre- 
sumed greater than that of the Ecclesiastical 
Courts." 

There is nothing in my letters to Labouchere 
which can in the least compare with the foregoing 
passage, which I take from 'The Life of Oscar 
Wilde," by Robert Harborough Sherard. Sherard's 
''Life," like Ransome's "Critical Study," is pub- 
lished broadcast and under everybody's nose, and 
both of them, as we have seen, contain their indi- 
vidual views of Wilde's vices. 



CHAPTER XIV 

THE ARTICLE IN THE ''rEVUE BLANCHE" 

IN pursuance of what I conceived to be my duty 
towards Wilde at the time he was in prison, 
I wrote the Labouchere letters and a good deal 
of similar matter which was not printed. My argu- 
ment was not that Wilde had wrongfully been con- 
victed, and not that what he did was to be counted 
to his credit, or even to be approved, but merely 
that there were scientific and medical grounds for 
supposing that he was not responsible for his 
actions in this regard, and that, in any case, the 
punishment meted out to him seemed unnecessarily 
and brutally severe. I do not know that I have 
changed my opinion to this day. It is unthinkable 
that a sane person could flounder into the loathsome 
depths in which Wilde was taken red-handed; par- 
ticularly is it unthinkable in respect of a man of 
Wilde's culture and social surroundings. 

That he was sane enough in other regards cannot 
be doubted, but I do not think there can be any 
question as to his insanity on this particular point. 

184 



Article in the "Revue Blanche'' 185 

But this is as far as I go, and this is as far as any 
decently-minded person can go. I never went an 
inch further, and never intended to. I have already 
stated that after sentence was passed upon Wilde 
all Paris appeared to go off its head with regard 
to the scandal. Many absurd and unfounded pieces 
of gossip were published in the French newspapers, 
and some of these I took it upon myself to endeavour 
to refute. When it became known that I was in 
Paris, the interviewers flocked round me and 
wanted me to talk to them on all manner of silly 
matters. I declined to have anything to do with 
them in a general way, especially as I found that 
they were disposed to garble and exaggerate every- 
thing one might tell them. One fine morning, how- 
ever, there called upon me a journalist with whom 
I had some acquaintance, who told me that he had 
been commissioned by the Editor of the Revue 
Blanche to get me to write an article on the Wilde 
affair in which my views should be set out definitely 
and finally, and thus put an end to the extraordinary 
stories which were being circulated in my name. I 
knew the Revue Blanche as a weekly literary jour- 
nal of somewhat advanced opinions, and I thought 
that here was an excellent opportunity to say some- 
thing that might be of use to Wilde. My difficulty 
was that, while I spoke French fluently, I did not 



186 Oscar Wilde and Myself 

feel that I had a sufficient command of style and 
so forth to write the article in French. My friend 
the journalist was very accommodating, however, 
and it was arranged between us that, with the 
knowledge of the Editor of the Revvie Blanche, I 
was to write an article in English which would be 
translated into French and inserted in the paper 
over my name. I wrote the article and handed it 
to the representative of the Revue, for translation 
and publication. I stipulated for a proof in French, 
but the next I heard about the matter was that the 
article had appeared. The translator, whoever he 
was, simply took my article as a sort of peg, and 
hung on it a farrago of extremely vicious opinions, 
and even more vicious comparisons which I had 
never put forward, and which my own article cer- 
tainly did not suggest. I complained to the Editor 
of the Revue at the time, but found myself unable 
to obtain any redress, and there was nothing more 
to be done. The French article passed almost un- 
noticed, inasmuch as the Revue Blanche had a very 
limited circulation, and I never heard another word 
about it until years after, when I was editing The 
Academy, In that paper I had occasion to write a 
paragraph about a journal called The Freethinker, 
which was edited by a Mr. Foote, and which made a 



Article in the **Revue Blanche'' 187 

sort of business of blasphemy. Mr. Foote was not 
pleased at what I said about him and, by way of 
retort, he translated a particularly nauseous pas- 
sage from the Revue Blanche article, inserted it in 
his journal and accused me of being the author. I 
immediately issued a writ for libel against the pro- 
prietors of the Freethinker J and, after receiving the 
writ, Mr. Foote discovered that he had made a 
serious mistake and promptly apologised in the next 
issue of his paper. He did not even enter an ap- 
pearance. I was content with my apology and 
allowed the action to lapse. 

This is the whole truth about the Revue Blanche 
article. Though the Revue is now dead, the pro- 
prietor and editor are, I believe, still alive. If, as 
was contended in the Ransome trial, I wrote the 
article I am said to have written, or furnished the 
material for it, these gentlemen could easily have 
been produced to say so. But they were not brought 
forward as witnesses and were not even approached 
on the subject. Yet the article was put in at the 
trial and, though I said on oath in court what I now 
say here in print — and my assertion was not in the 
slightest degree shaken by cross-examination — Mr. 
Justice Darling persisted in reading aloud, and for 
the benefit of the jury, words which I had not writ- 



188 Oscar Wilde and Myself 

ten, and this in spite of my explanations and protest. 
There is no use in complaining, nor do I complain. 
I merely put it on record once for all, that the Revue 
Blanche article is not my article, and I am in no 
way responsible for it. 



CHAPTER XV 

FIFTEEN YEARS OF PERSECUTION 

I Dp not think it is an exaggeration to say 
that from the day of Oscar Wilde's sentence 
in 1887 down to the Ransome trial in 1913 
not a single week had passed over my head without 
some unpleasantness or other arising in conse- 
quence of my friendship with Oscar Wilde. Even 
before Wilde was sent to prison the trouble began. 
There was talk and gossip almost from the com- 
mencement of our acquaintanceship. This was 
largely set afoot by envious people. Wilde's friends 
could not brook that we should be so constantly to- 
gether, and that I should — to use their own phrase 
— ''monopolise" him. 

In point of fact, I had no desire to monopolise 
him. It was simply impossible to shake him off. 
If I left him for a day he would seek me out and 
want to know where I had been and why I had 
not asked him to accompany me. If I went abroad 
he would follow me and either entreat me to return 
or sit down solemnly and wait my time. So con- 

189 



190 Oscar Wilde and Myself 

tinually were we together that our friendship be- 
came matter for public comment and was referred 
to in the newspapers. I do not say that I disliked 
all this, though it was certainly embarrassing and 
even annoying at times. In a sense, perhaps, I was 
rather flattered. I have always been fond of com- 
panionship, and Wilde was undoubtedly an enter- 
taining companion when he liked. Besides which 
he was famous in a way, and it is not always un- 
pleasant to go about with famous people, partic- 
ularly when they happen to be very civil to one. It 
is a fact that Wilde could not bear me out of his 
sight. If we happened to be staying together and 
I went away for ten minutes without telling him 
where I was going, he would work himself up into 
a state of nervous apprehension and rouse a whole 
hotel with his enquiries. 

I remember that when we were at a hotel in 
Algiers, I went out to make a purchase without 
mentioning to Wilde that I was going. On my 
return, half an hour later, I was met in the hall 
by a scared-looking concierge, who said: ''Mon- 
sieur, you are back ! Voire papa has been demand- 
ing to know where you were, with great noise, for 
the last hour !" Wilde happened to be descending 
the staircase at this precise moment and overheard 
what the man had said. The expression ''voire 



Fifteen Years of Persecution 191 

papa'' simply drove him to fury. He was always 
vain of his "youthful appearance" (though, as a 
matter of fact, he looked much older than his age), 
and he jumped to the conclusion that he was be- 
ginning to look old. He could not see that his 
anxious queries as to my whereabouts had set the 
hotel people thinking that he must stand in a paren- 
tal relationship to the object of his solicitude. For 
myself, I was vastly amused and, for months after, 
if I wished to make Wilde fearfully angry, I had 
only to say ''voire papa'' 

I may, perhaps, explain here that from the very 
beginning I always treated Wilde in the way I 
would treat any other friend of mine, that is to 
say, though I believed him to be a great man, I 
never had any awe of him, and I never flattered 
him. Not only so, but at times I made a great 
deal of fun of him, and there were occasions when 
he didn't relish it. For example, he had been talk- 
ing to me and to other people at great length about 
Milton. Somebody in a paper had pointed out that 
certain of his sonnets had a Miltonic echo about 
them. He admitted that this was so, but said that 
what the critic called an echo was really an achieve- 
ment, and that he had wilfully set himself to write 
sonnets like Milton's, which should be as good as 
Milton's. For several days his conversation turned 



192 Oscar Wilde and Myself 

in the same direction, and in the end I began to 
grow a little weary of the Milton- Wilde amalgama- 
tion, and told him that it was quite easy to write 
Miltonic sonnets, and that lots of people could do it 
besides Oscar Wilde. On leaving him that evening 
I wrote and posted to him the following sonnet, 
which, I need hardly say, was ''writ sarcastic" : 

Oscar ! what though no brazen trumpet-call 
Of Fame hath called thee to the foremost van 
Of life's array, though not from man to man 
Thy name is bandied, though thy life seem small, 
Ignoble in men's eyes; the Lord of all. 
Who reads the heart and with his fearful fan 
Purges his floor, knows thy true talisman — 
A humble soul too near the ground to fall. 

Therefore, repine not if thy lot obscure 
Seeks quiet ways and walks not with the crowd : 
A kindly heart is more than laurel crown ; 
A virtuous life builds thrones that will endure 
More surely than the Kingdoms of the proud 
And Thrift shall stand when Luxury falls down. 

Wilde professed to take this ''undergraduate 
effusion" seriously, and pronounced it to be "not 
bad, for an amateur.'' But we heard no more about 
Miltonic sonnets. 

I mention these things, which are typical, so that 
the reader may be spared the conclusion that my 
friendship with Wilde was a smooth and treacly 
affair ; for it was nothing of the kind. Indeed, we 



Fifteen Years of Persecution 193 

had many a tiff and many a disagreement, and I 
wrote no end of skits and letters to him, some of 
them not over civil ; and that he remembered them 
and that they hurt him much more keenly than I 
had intended is shown by his references to "loath- 
some" and "brutal" letters received from me. Any- 
thing that displeased Wilde was loathsome, brutal, 
callous, coarse, and so forth. If I wrote and said : — 

"My dear Oscar, 

"I am afraid that I shall not be able to come 
round to lunch to-day as I am feeling a bit off 
colour," 

I could count on getting a reply in some such terms 
as: — 

"I have received your callous note. If you 
are ill, surely you can say so without using coarse 
and vulgar expressions." 

I took precious little notice of these missives and, 
when we met the next day, neither of us would re- 
fer to them. 

As I have said, people gossipped about our friend- 
ship and exhibited a certain amount of jealousy of 
me; but I was not then, and never have been, dis- 
posed to allow third parties to interfere in my 
friendships. I have shown what happened when 
my own father attempted to make differences be- 



194 Oscar Wilde and Myself 

tween us. The moment Wilde was sentenced things 
were made intolerable for me. Lying tales as to 
my indifference to his fate reached Wilde, and he 
was told that I was about to publish letters of his 
to his damage and my own monetary profit. The 
only letters of Wilde's I ever proposed to publish, in 
my life, were letters which contained sentiments 
that were to his credit, and even these I withdrew 
the moment I heard that he was supposed not to 
wish them printed. Not only was every effort made 
to embitter and estrange Wilde against me while 
he was in prison, but I was being continually 
assailed by impudent rogues who professed to have 
information and documents which it would be worth 
my while to buy. To these people I paid neither 
the smallest heed nor the smallest of monies. They 
never had a farthing from me, nor will they ever 
get one. I was threatened with "exposure'' by 
pretty well all the crawling vermin of London and 
Paris for months after the trial. I knew there was 
nothing to expose, so that I was not particularly 
anxious; but seeing, as I had seen, what venom 
and villainy were capable of doing when they got 
fairly to work, I do not profess that these threats 
were pleasant reading of a morning at breakfast. 
Furthermore, my family were assailed in much the 
same way and, though they never allowed them- 




LADY ALFRED DOUGLAS 



Fifteen Years of Persecution 195 

selves to be victimised, they were not entirely de- 
lighted with the constant current of menace which 
came their way. 

In 1902 I married. It was a runaway match, 
which neither myself nor my wife have ever re- 
pented. At once, however, the dastardly attentions 
of the blackmailers, letter-sellers and information 
mongers were directed to Lady Alfred. We lived 
abroad for a considerable time and, though the 
threats had been bad enough while we were away, 
they assumed a double fury when we came to Eng- 
land. They have continued with greater or less 
frequency ever since. The people who wanted 
money to keep quiet have fallen off unappeased long 
ago. But the kind and gentle souls who imagined 
that Lady Alfred Douglas would be pleased to hear 
''something dreadful" about her husband on an 
anonymous postcard are still with us and crop up 
from time to time as the spirit moves them. When 
I took over the editorship of The Academy, in 1907, 
the fun became fast and furious. We could not 
review a book adversely in the paper without being 
made the object of anonymous threats and abuse 
with reference to Wilde, and what was going to be 
done to us if we didn't look out. Persons on papers 
at Oxford and Cambridge wrote paragraphs about 
the Editor of The Academy containing veiled sug- 



196 Oscar Wilde and Myself 

gestions as to the discreditable character of his for- 
mer relations with Wilde, till we were compelled to 
take legal proceedings ; then they fell on their knees 
and wept bitterly and spoke of their dying fathers 
and apologised humbly and paid our costs. I sent 
my friend Crosland down to see the Dons of one 
of our Universities who were responsible for a 
certain publication, and he sat solemnly with these 
learned and reverend signors, in the cloistered se- 
clusion of College, while they solemnly settled 

the terms of an apology and tried to make the costs 
pounds instead of guineas by promising to dismiss 
their editor. From time to time, too, outsiders took 
a hand at the game. It was through the tender 
offices of these people that I had steady reminders 
of the existence of mysterious letters which were 
being held by one of them, and which were to be 
produced for my destruction when this gentleman 
might deem the occasion to have arisen. 



CHAPTER XVI 
wilde's poetry 

WILDE once said to me when we were 
discussing poetry that there were two 
ways of disHking poetry — one being to 
disHke it, and the other to Hke Pope. This remark 
was brought forth really by Aubrey Beardsley, who 
was present, and who said that for him, at any rate, 
there was only one English poet, namely. Pope. It 
is highly characteristic of Wilde, who, although 
he insisted on his own eminence as a poet and a 
critic of poetry, never committed himself to what 
might be considered a serious theory on the subject. 
Piecing together the views he expressed from time 
to time in a casual and general way, I am convinced, 
indeed, that he had no theory which was in the least 
stable or cogent and which was not liable to be 
altered by the moment's whim or mood. It is cer- 
tain that, while he hankered after poetic distinction 
and in his early manhood strove after it, his aim 
was not so much to produce great poetry as to turn 

out stuff which would provoke the critics to write 

197 



198 Oscar Wilde and Myself 

about him and the witlings to talk about him. He 
published a volume of poems when he was twenty- 
six years of age, but after that he produced next to 
nothing poetical till he wrote the ''Ballad of Read- 
ing Gaol." "The Sphinx/' it is true, was published 
in 1894, but it had been written many years before. 
In his preface to "Wilde's Selected Poems," Mr. 
Ross tells us that Wilde's early work was never 
''until recently" well received by the critics. He 
adds, however, that "they have survived the test 
of nine editions," with the "nine" in capital letters. 
For myself, I do not admit that the poems have been 
well received by criticism, even recently, for the very 
simple reason that there is very little in them to re- 
ceive. Of course, it is unfair to apply the test of "re- 
ception" to any poetry that is worth talking about, 
just as it is unfair to rely on the test of editions. To 
take an instance in point : there is Miss Ella Wheeler 
Wilcox, who has been received with all manner of 
plaudits by all manner of reviewers and whose 
works have stood the test of probably ninety edi- 
tions. But who in his senses is going to tell us 
that this estimable lady is a great poetess and to 
be mentioned in the same breath as — say — Mrs. 
Browning or Mrs. Meynell, the latter of whom, at 
any rate, has not achieved even so many editions 
as Wilde? It is plain that the only real test of 



Wilde's Poetry 199 

poetry is its quality, and neither its reception nor its 
saleability can affect that quality. If we apply such 
a test to Wilde's early poetical work, which repre- 
sents the bulk of what he accomplished, we shall not 
find that he shines with anything like the effulgence 
that his adherents have imagined for him. Wilde 
himself knew that he was not a great poet. His 
cry is, continually: '*I am an artist — the supreme 
artist, in fact,'' and never : '1 am a poet," or "I am 
the supreme poet." He knew perfectly well that 
that cock wouldn't fight. He was not even anxious 
to be known as a poet in the way that some of his 
contemporaries were anxious to be known. He told 
me that to be dubbed "poet" was to raise up visions 
of untidy hair, dirty linen, and no dinner to speak 
of, and such a view of himself he abhorred. ''Never 
be a poet, my dear Bosie: be a gentleman, a con- 
noisseur, an artist — what you will; but not a poet- 
Let us leave being a poet to Dowson and Arthur 
Symons and, if you like, Dick Le Gallienne." All 
Wilde's biographers have striven manfully and — 
one might say — pitifully to make a great poet out 
of Oscar Wilde, and they have failed. Even Mr. 
Ransome, the most zealous of the bunch, cannot 
bring himself to any more flattering conclusion than 
that Wilde was a sort of inspired plagiarist or imi- 
tator who, in Mr. Ransome's view, improved upon 



200 Oscar Wilde and Myself 

what he appropriated. Nobody who has read any 
poetry other than Wilde's can fail to perceive that, 
leaving out the ''Ballad of Reading Gaol" and, up to 
a point, 'The Sphinx,'' Wilde's poetical work con- 
sists of clever, and occasionally, perhaps, brilliant 
imitations. Wherever one turns in the three hun- 
dred pages of his published poems one finds echoes 
— and little else but echoes. His sonnets are, for 
the most part, Miltonic in their eflfects; the metre 
and method of "In Memoriam" are used in the 
greater number of his lyrics ; and he uses the metre 
which Tennyson sealed to himself for all time even 
in "The Sphinx," which is his great set work; while 
in such pieces as "Charmides," "Panthea," "Hu- 
manitad" and "The Burden of Itys" he borrows the 
grave pipe of Matthew Arnold and what he himself 
called the silver-keyed flute of Keats. Haphazard, 
I take up the Ross-edited volume "Poems by Oscar 
Wilde," and I open, on page two hundred and 
twenty-two — "La Mer": — 

A white mist drifts across the shrouds, 
A wild moon in this wintry sky 
Gleams, like an angry lion's eye. 
Out of a mane of tawny clouds. 

The muffled steersman at the wheel 

Is but a shadow in the gloom: • 

And in the throbbing engine-room 

Leap the long rods of polished steel. 



Wilde's Poetry 201 

The shattered storm has left its trace 
Upon this huge and heaving dome. 
For the thin threads of yellow foam 
Float on the waves, like ravelled lace. 

The bird is Wilde, the plumage and call are Tenny- 
son's to a fault. 

Then again, on page one hundred and thirty- 
six: — 

To outer senses there is peace, 
A dreamy peace on either hand ; 
Deep silence in the shadowy land, 
Deep silence where the shadows cease; 

Save for a cry that echoes shrill 
From some lone bird disconsolate: 
A corn-crake calling to its mate. 
The answer from the misty hill. 

\ 
And suddenly the moon withdraws 
Her sickle from the lightening skies, 
And to her sombre cavern flies, 
Wrapped in a veil of yellow gauze. 

More Tennyson, with the "In Memoriam'* verse 
lines arbitrarily and wrongfully disposed for the 
deception of the innocent. I might go on quoting 
from Wilde in the metre ad nauseam and never 
strike so much as four lines which can be pro- 
nounced to be pure Wilde. With "The Sphinx/' 
as a whole, I shall deal later; but I may point out 



202 Oscar Wilde and Myself 

here that while Wilde arranges the stanzas as 
though they consisted of two lines, they really con- 
sist of Tennyson's four and, for correctness' sake, 
should have been printed thus : — 

In a dim corner of my room 

For longer than my fancy thinks, 
A beautiful and silent Sphinx 

Has watched me through the shifting gloom. 

Inviolate and immobile, 

She does not rise, she does not stir; 

For silver moons are naught to her. 
And naught to her the suns that reel. 

Tennyson's suns as well as Tennyson's stanza! I 
am not suggesting that all this is otherwise than 
neat and deft and skilful and pleasing, but a poet 
of parts, leaving out the "true poet" so beloved of 
Mr. Ross, should surely have a note or tone or 
cadence of his own, and not warble so distressingly 
like the "true poet" in the next street. As the Wilde 
faction appear to be acquainted with no poetry but 
"poor dear Oscar's," I will take a few passages 
from "In Memoriam," which, while they will be 
familiar to the more intelligent reader, will doubt- 
less come in the way of an eye-opener to people 
like Mr. Ross. Let us repeat, to begin with, the 
second verse of "La Mer" : — 



Wilde's Poetry 203 

The muffled steersman at the wheel 
Is but a shadow in the gloom: 
And in the throbbing engine-room 
Leaps the long rods of polished steel. 

This is, as we have seen, Wilde. Against it let us 
put Tennyson's 

I hear the noise about the keel, 
I hear the bell struck in the night ; 
I see the cabin-window bright ; 

I see the sailor at the wheel. 

If ever there was an impudent and unblushing 
*'crib/' surely we have it here ! I wonder what the 
Ransomes, Sherards, Harrises and Inglebys of this 
little world would say if they caught anybody else 
but Wilde at pretty little tricks of this kind. In 
Wilde such childish conveyance must be excused 
and even held up to admiration; in another it would 
be sheer theft. Then, again, take the second set of 
stanzas I have quoted from Wilde, about peace and 
silence, and compare them with the following from 
"In Memoriam": — 

Calm is the morn, without a sound, 
Calm as to suit a calmer grief, 
And only through the faded leaf 

The chestnut pattering to the ground: 

Calm and deep peace on this high wold, 
And on these dews that drench the furze. 
And all the silvery gossamers 

That twinkle into green and gold : 



204 Oscar Wilde and Myself 

Calm and still light on yon great plain 
That sweeps with all its autumn bowers. 
And crowded farms and lessening towers, 

To mingle with the bounding main: 

Calm and deep peace in this wide air. 
These leaves that redden to the fall; 
And in my heart, if calm at all, 

If any calm, a calm despair: 

Wilde's verses are plainly a paraphrase — and a bad 
one to boot. It will be urged that he wrote these in 
his youth, and that all poets, more or less, echo one 
another when they are young. But when one comes 
to consider that out of the forty or so lyrical pieces 
which Wilde wrote no fewer than eighteen are in 
the metre of "In Memoriam,'' and not one of them 
is free from images, phrases or cadences which can 
easily be paralleled out of Tennyson, while the whole 
of "The Sphinx" is open to criticism on the same 
grounds, one cannot doubt that Oscar Wilde is a 
poet who has rather overdone the youthful imitation 
business ; and one can scarcely be expected to break 
the alabaster box of critical adulation at his feet. 
I have not space to enter into great detail with 
regard to those lyrics of Wilde which are not flatly 
Tennysonian. There are about twenty of them, 
and they include a cheap imitation of "La Belle 
Dame sans Merci,'' a flagrant copy of Hood's lines 



Wilde's Poetry 205 

beginning 'Take her up tenderly," and sundry 
pieces which are childishly reminiscent of Mrs. 
Browning, William Morris and even Jean Ingelow. 
Of his own initiative, Mr. Ross heads up this col- 
lection of poetical brummagem with such taking 
titles as ''Eleutheria,'' ''Windflowers," 'Tlowers of 
Gold,'' "The Fourth Movement'' and "Flowers of 
Love." But the fact that they are wood-pulp or 
ceraceous replicas of other people's nosegays is of 
no account to the faithful and the blind. 

As regards the sonnets, which may, perhaps, be 
said to constitute that part of Wilde's poetical work 
which is best worth consideration, I have only to say 
that while it would be tedious to compare them 
side by side with the sonnets of Milton and other 
writers, such a comparison cannot fail to convince 
any reasonable being that in this department again 
Wilde was an over-sedulous ape — so over-sedulous, 
in fact, that he is careful to emphasise and exag- 
gerate the very faults and defects of his masters. 
On the point of technique, the importance of which 
cannot be too gravely insisted upon where the son- 
net form is concerned, he is continuously and hope- 
lessly at fault. His rhyme-sounds are, for the most 
part, of the cheapest and the most hackneyed. Of 
the twenty-eight sonnets which he produced, seven 
have rhymes to ''play," "say," ''day," and so forth; 



206 Oscar Wilde and Myself 

rhymes to *'see," "be" and ''me" are common, and 
in even greater number; and on no fewer than 
twenty-one distinct occasions are we proffered such 
rhymes as ''liberty/' "anarchy," "memory," "de- 
mocracy," "already," "victory," "luxury," and the 
like, or an average of three times in every four 
sonnets. And this, if you please, is the work of 
"the supreme artivSt!" 

It follows without saying that while Wilde be- 
lieved himself to be writing in the Italian sonnet 
form, he persistently finds himself unable to ad- 
here to the difficult rules of that form. He has 
octaves with four rhymes in them instead of two, 
and he will wind up a sextet with a couplet like 
the veriest tyro of them all. The contents of the 
sonnets represent the best of Wilde's thought, 
being, for the most part, free from fleshliness, cyni- 
cism and perversity. Yet, when one has said this 
for it, one has said all. There is nowhere anything 
very great or very noble or very beautiful, and one 
never catches even a suggestion of the large accent 
which makes a poet. Sententiousness, grandiose- 
ness, and a laboured classicism set forward with the 
help of an artificial rhetoric which at times is almost 
comic are the upshot of Wilde's sonnets taken gen- 
erally and in the lump. 

There now remain the set pieces such as "A Gar- 



Wilde's Poetry 207 

den of Eros/' a la Matthew Arnold; "The New 
Helen," a la Keats; "The Burden of Itys," a la 
Matthew Arnold again; "Panthea," a blend of 
Matthew Arnold and Keats; and "Humanitad," 
more Arnold; also "The Sphinx'' and the "Ballad of 
Reading Gaol." No lover of poetry in a high sense 
is likely to waste much time in the perusal of the 
five pieces first mentioned. It is not claimed for 
them by anybody that they are other than cold and 
super-painted failures, produced in the spirit of 
"Now, let me show you what I, the scholar and a 
connoisseur, can do," rather than by any spiritual or 
poetical impulsion. Only the meagrest portions of 
them can be admired, even by the elect; and these 
portions are not edifying. 

As for "The Sphinx," even if we concede that 
the uneasy effect of its metre be dismissed from the 
question, we have left what is — on the face of it — 
a work of not always too successful virtuosity on a 
theme which is frankly bestial. There is an un- 
doubted pomp and swing about some of the stanzas ; 
there are pictures well visualised and put on the 
canvas with a fine eye for colour; and the element 
of curiousness or weirdness is well sustained; but 
right through the piece one is made to feel that it is 
not the poet but the mechanician who has come be- 
fore us, and continually he creaks and whirrs, as it 



208 Oscar Wilde and Myself 

were, for want of oil and control. Wilde, doubt- 
less, set out to build a jewelled palace for his dubious 
and, if you come to look at it closely, loathsome 
fancy. He has succeeded only in establishing a 
sort of Wardour Street receptacle for old, tarnished 
and too-vividly-coloured lots. His efforts to do 
things in the most dazzling and wizardly manner 
are at times ludicrous, and his endeavours to get up 
unthinkable passions provoke one to laughter rather 
than awe. In a despairing determination to tie to 
the end of the poem something on which a reason- 
able being might ponder, he becomes utterly in- 
consequential. 

False Sphinx! False Sphinx! By reedy Styx old Charon 

leaning on his oar, 
Waits for my coin. Go thou before, and leave me to my 

crucifix. 
Whose pallid burden, sick with pain, watches the world with 

wearied eyes. 
And weeps for every soul that dies, and weeps for every soul 

in vain. 

The dragging in of this bit of specious religiosity 
as a bonne bouche after an orgy of flamboyant 
passion-slaking is, doubtless, very cunning and 
clever, but it has nothing to do with either great 
art on the one hand or common sense on the other. 
'The Sphinx'' is a poem which may well have 
stirred certain resorts in the neighbourhood of 



Wilde's Poetry 209 

Piccadilly Circus to their foundations. It is a poem 
for the perverse and the "curious," but its value as 
art or poetry is next door to negligible. 

I have already said that in my view the ''Ballad 
of Reading Gaol" is the only poem of Wilde's which 
is likely to endure. It is as different from his pre- 
vious work as chalk is different from cheese, and 
to read it after perusal of 'The Sphinx" or the 
sonnets, it might almost be the work of another 
hand. In point of fact, it was indeed written by 
a Wilde who had very little in common, whether 
intellectually or artistically, with the Wilde of the 
bulk of the poems. Up to the time of his imprison- 
ment Oscar Wilde, poet, had encouraged, or pre- 
tended to encourage, certain very grave fallacies 
with regard to poetry. He asserted — largely, I 
think, because he knew himself to be incapable of 
sincerity — that poetry was, in its essence, a matter 
of pretence and artifice. He held that style was 
everything, and feeling nothing; that poetry should 
be removed as well from material actuality as from 
the actuality of the spirit, and that no great poet 
had ever in his greatest moments been other than 
insincere. He professed other odd views and used 
roundly to assert that he would rather have written 
Swinburne's "Poems and Ballads" than anything 
else in literature; and that Shakespeare was not, 



210 Oscar Wilde and Myself 

after all, a very great poet. I remember that when 
some idiot talked of starting an "Anti-Shake- 
speare Society," on the ground that "Shakespeare 
never wrote a line of poetry in his life," Wilde was 
vastly tickled by the idea, and said that Shakespeare 
had been much overrated. He would have it that 
Webster's "Duchess of Malfi" was a much better 
play and much better poetry than any of Shake- 
speare's, and, as he admired little that he did not 
sooner or later try to imitate, it is possible that we 
owe his "Duchess of Padua" to this view. In any 
case, up to the time of his going to prison, there can 
be no question that Wilde was peculiar and in a great 
measure heretical in his notions about what poetry 
should be. His opinions may or may not have 
altered while he was in prison. I never heard him 
renounce them, but after he came out he did arrive 
at a perception of the fact that a poet who wishes 
to be heard must make his appeal to the human 
heart as well as to the intellect, and that perversity 
is never by any chance poetry. And so he set about 
the "Ballad of Reading Gaol." Even here, how- 
ever, he could not walk alone. He must have 
models, and his actual model was "The Dream of 
Eugene Aram," with "The Ancient Mariner" 
thrown in on technical grounds. The result, of 
course, far outdistances "Eugene Aram," just as 



Wilde's Poetry 211 

in certain ultimate qualities it falls far short of 
"The Ancient Mariner/' It is sufficient for us that 
in the ''Ballad of Reading GaoF' we have a sus- 
tained poem of sublimated actuality and of a 
breadth and sweep and poignancy such as had never 
before been attained in this line. The emotional 
appeal is, on the whole, quite legitimate and, if we 
except a very few passages in which the old Adam 
Wilde crops out, the established tradition as to 
what is fitting and comely in a poem of this nature 
is not outraged or transgressed. Because of this 
and the general skill and deftness of its workman- 
ship, the poem will last, and, though I cannot agree 
with those critics who desire to place Wilde among 
the Immortals, I am certainly of opinion that it is 
on the ''Ballad of Reading GaoF' and on the "Bal- 
lad of Reading GsloV alone that his reputation 
among posterity will stand. 

The placing of poets and poetry in their proper 
relation to the mass of literature is no fool's job, 
and I am aware that the opinion of one age is fre- 
quently stultified by the opinion of the next. But 
this is not true of great work. I think it can be 
established that all great work has been admired 
and treasured from the beginning. From time to 
time, too, the vast quantities of mediocre and insig- 
nificant work is also admired, but in the nature of 



212 Oscar Wilde and Myself 

things there is no vitality about it and, despite the 
p3ean of fools, it perishes. Much that Wilde has 
strung into verse will so perish. The "Ballad" may 
persist and save him from the oblivion which he 
seems to me assiduously to have courted. 



CHAPTER XVII 

THE PLAYS AND PROSE WORKS 

I HAVE demonstrated in the foregoing chapter 
the absolute folly of Wilde's claim to suprem- 
acy as an artist. It is a claim which would 
never have been put forward for him if he had not 
put it forward for himself, but it is a claim which 
his adherents have constantly reiterated since his 
death, with nobody to gainsay them ; and so vocif- 
erous and persistent have these people been that 
the idea of Wilde's supreme artistry has come to be 
accepted without question by a gaping public and 
to pass current as good, sound, critical coin even 
among the cultivated. Wilde the supreme artist 
in the capacity of poet does not exist and never has 
existed. We have now to turn to Wilde the 
supreme proseman. The Ross-Ransome faction are 
nothing if not wonderful in this regard. Their one 
cry, which they repeat with parrot-like iteration and 
to which they cling as a drowning critic might cling 
to critical straws, is this — Wilde's own saying: 
"The fact of a man being a poisoner is nothing 

213 



214 Oscar Wilde and Myself 

against his prose/' Now, this is such a truism 
that, of itself, it is not worth talking about, but 
it has been put up for the defence and glorification 
of Wilde, in and out of season. Even our great 
literary judge, Mr. Justice Darling, takes his cue 
from this remark and tells twelve English jurymen 
that because a man was a bad man, that is not 
to say that we are to refrain from reading his books, 
and so on. But all these people miss the real point, 
which is that, though the fact of a man being a 
poisoner is nothing against his prose, it is equally, 
and just as clearly, nothing for it. Without going 
further into the question at the moment, I shall 
venture to deal with Wilde's prose writings on the 
assumption that if they are no worse they are 
certainly no better through the fact of the shame- 
fulness of his life. Wilde himself never made any 
great fuss about his prose writings other than the 
plays. He regarded — and very properly regarded — 
the essays in 'Intentions," together with the fairy 
tales and his other stories (excepting, of course, 
'The Picture of Dorian Gray"), as so much donkey 
work, and pretty well on the level with his lectures, 
which were written for the pure purpose of getting 
money and with no eye to ''supreme artistry." "In- 
tentions" was first published in 1891. Three years 
went by before the book passed into its second edi- 



The Plays and Prose Works 215 

tion. The first edition was published at 7s. 6d., and 
I believe I am right in saying that the second edi- 
tion, published at 3s. 6d., was simply a "remainder'' 
of the first in a cheaper binding. It was not till 
after Wilde's imprisonment and death and after the 
''boosters" had been at work on him for some years 
that we began to hear of the marvellous artistry 
and genius which this volume is alleged to exhibit. 
Wilde himself would have laughed in his sleeve if 
he could have been told that such preposterous 
claims would ever be made for his pot-boiling fleers 
and ironies. He knew that the ''Decay of Lying/' 
the "Critic as Artist" and the "Truth of Masks" 
were, in a large measure, cribbed from Whistler, 
and he knew that "Pen, Pencil and Poison" was the 
merest review article, and neither better nor worse 
than the average stodginess which the public of his 
day accepted from their somnolent monthlies. The 
doctrine in these papers will not bear examination. 
When it is good it is not Wilde's, and when it is 
bad it is horrid, and not necessarily Wilde's at that. 
It is studded with such clap-trap statements as "All 
art is immoral" ; "Society often forgives the crim- 
inal: it never forgives the dreamer"; "There is no 
sin except stupidity"; "The Greeks had no art 
critics" ; "It is difficult not to be unjust to what one 
loves" ; "His crimes gave strong personality to his 



216 Oscar Wilde and Myself 

style''; ''I am prepared to prove anything''; "The 
more we study art the less we care for nature"; 
''Shakespeare is too fond of going directly to life 
and borrowing life's natural utterance" ; "Meredith 
is a prose Browning — and so is Browning" ; "I live 
in terror of not being misunderstood" ; "To have a 
capacity for a passion and not to realise it is to 
make oneself incomplete and limited." And so 
we might continue, to the complete exasperation of 
reason and decency. Pernicious and scurrilous 
stuff was always in Wilde's bosom, and if he could 
get it off in a sly way while pretending to discuss 
serious matters in a serious sense he was delighted. 
His doctrine was nothing more or less than a doc- 
trine of smart negation. That he had literary skill 
enough and wit and scholarship enough to be enter- 
taining nobody wishes to deny, but the cultivated 
people whom he entertains place no value upon his 
opinions. It is the middling-minded who are not 
entertained, and yet take him for gospel and allow 
such intellectuality as they may possess to be dam- 
aged and warped by his insincerities. On the whole, 
therefore, I say that "Intentions" will not do if we 
are to consider Wilde in the light of a serious and 
illuminating thinker. 

On the ground of artistry, style and so forth 
the book is not by any means flawless. That Wilde 



The Plays and Prose Works 217 

had a good, easy prose style and did, at times, write 
accomplished prose I admit; but in this regard he 
stands on no better level than Mr. Frank Harris or 
Mr. Gilbert Chesterton. All three of them — Wilde, 
Harris and Chesterton — are killed by the exuber- 
ance of their own facility. They have the pen of the 
ready writer and they fall accordingly. Moreover, 
Wilde is prone to the over-sugared and over-gilded 
passage ; even though he can be as bald as the bald- 
est and as limping as the lamest. Of his minor 
defects I will say nothing, except that his split 
infinitives are a standing disgrace to him. 

We may now pass to his stories. I have always 
held that if Wilde was anything at all he was an 
inventor of stories. Such social success as he ever 
attained was almost entirely due to this gift coupled 
with a remarkable delivery and a good voice. "I 
have thought of a story" was an announcement for 
ever on his lips, and his intimates knew that five 
times out of six the story would be worth listening 
to. When I first knew him his pet stories were of 
the order of the inverted fable; somewhat in the 
manner of the fables of Ambrose Bierce. Two ex- 
amples which have never been published I may set 
down here. One of them is what Wilde called 'The 
True Story of Androcles and the Lion.'' He said 
that though Androcles may have been an early 



218 Oscar Wilde and Myself 

Christian slave, he was also a dentist. A certain 
lion found himself suffering from severe toothache 
and consulted Androcles on the subject. The 
dentist advised gold filling for the back teeth and 
an entirely new set of teeth for the upper jaw or 
mandible. Later, Androcles, because he was a good 
Christian, was thrown to the lions or, rather, to a 
lion, and perceiving when the beast was let loose 
upon him that here was an old friend, approached 
him with joy, feeling sure that the lion would not 
hurt him inasmuch as he had made no charge for 
the gold filling and the upper set of teeth. But the 
King of Beasts had other views and promptly tore 
Androcles to pieces, and chewed him up with the 
very teeth which had been so kindly and generously 
supplied to him. 

And the other story was called 'Tresence of 
Mind." *'In a theatre in America," said Wilde, 
''there was a young flute-player who was gifted 
with an extraordinary presence of mind. One 
evening some of the scenery caught fire and, as the 
smoke and flames began to rush into the building, 
the audience prepared to flee. Whereupon, with 
singular presence of mind, the young flute-player 
jumped out of his seat and, holding up a lily-white 
hand, cried in stentorian tones: There is no 
danger!' In consequence of these words the audi- 



The Plays and Prose Works 219 

ence kept their seats and every single soul of them 
was burnt to death. Thus we may see," added 
Wilde, ''how useful a thing presence of mind 
really is." 

Of course, he had other stories in different veins, 
and I believe that all the tales in 'The Happy 
Prince" and "The House of Pomegranates," as well 
as in the volume which contains "Lord Arthur 
Saville's Crime," were told by Wilde over and over 
again before they were written ; just as he told the 
tale of "La Sainte Courtisane" and the plots of his 
plays before they were written. "The Happy 
Prince" and "The House of Pomegranates" are not 
without their merits as fairy tales in the manner 
of Hans Andersen, but Wilde could not be content 
with the simplicities of his model, and some of the 
stories are marred by the obliquities of the cynic 
and the perverse mind. 

"Lord Arthur Saville's Crime" and the stories 
printed with it may be said to represent Wilde's 
attempt to come up with Robert Louis Stevenson 
on the plane of the New Arabian Nights. For 
my own part, I do not think that any of them quite 
"comes off." Wilde's friends have been at great 
pains to dilate on their "exquisite charm," their 
"mordant humour," and so forth; but they have 
always seemed to me to be fairly feeble. "Lord 



220 Oscar Wilde and Myself 

Arthur Saville's Crime'' itself is so over- fantastical 
that it becomes farcical. "The Canterville Ghost/' 
which Wilde describes as a hylo-idealistic romance, 
is a feeble but unblushing imitation of a now for- 
gotten story called "Cecilia de Noel," by Lane Fal- 
coner. "The Sphinx, Without a Secret," is a very 
stale and flat disappointment; and "The Model 
Millionaire" is exactly the kind of story for which 
Tit-Bits or Answers gives a guinea prize every 
week. I should not like the reader to imagine that 
I am dismissing these things airily or pooh-poohing 
them for the mere sake of doing it. I have lately 
read them with care, and I marvel that anybody can 
pretend that there is a great or dazzling merit 
about them. 

I believe that at the bottom of his heart Wilde 
felt that his true genius had found expression in 
his plays. Being the man he was, he could not 
refrain from praising his own poetry, his own 
essays and stories, and professing that they were 
very fine things indeed; but when he talked of 
himself as a supreme artist, it was the plays that 
he always had looming in his mind. For his poetry 
he had never received any of the critical rewards 
which would have so delighted him. He was never 
hailed poet by the poets contemporary with him; 
never admitted to that higher hierarchy to which 



The Plays and Prose Works 221 

Tennyson, Swinburne, Arnold, Browning and, if 
you like, even Rossetti, felt and knew themselves to 
belong. But his general prose and some of his 
■essays (paid for lavishly by Frank Harris when he 
was editing The Fortnightly) made a nine days' 
sensation, but they brought him no real credit or 
reputation ; neither did the story books. It was with 
Lady Windermere's Fan that he first got home, as 
it were; with results which, in the way of finance 
and applause, were entirely beyond his wildest 
dreams or expectation. Lady Windermere's Fan 
was a success, as successes went in those days, and 
it was followed by other successes, culminating in 
The Importance of being Earnest, which brought 
Wilde more money and more appreciation than any 
of them. Because the plays were a success and 
London went to see them, Wilde allowed himself 
to think that they must be important as literature 
and that he was a great dramatist. 

Sir Arthur Pinero will probably not consider 
himself too flattered when I mention that Wilde 
bad the greatest possible admiration for his work, 
and told me that from Pinero and Dumas Fils 
lie had learnt all he knew of stagecraft and that 
lie considered The Magistrate to be the best of all 
modern comedies. It is certain that for the plays, 
as for everything else he did, Wilde had to model 



222 Oscar Wilde and Myself 

himself on somebody, and Sir Arthur is fortunate 
or unfortunate in having been the man. One has 
only to compare the constructive methods of the 
two to recognise this. The only difference between 
them is that Sir Arthur Pinero maintains an illusion 
of strict sanity among his characters, whereas 
Wilde is not always to be depended upon in this 
regard. Besides which, there is the further differ- 
ence that, while Pinero conforms to the established 
code of morals and makes his good people good and 
his bad people bad, Wilde has a tendency to hold up 
bad people for good people, and drops out really 
good people altogether. I am going to say this 
much and no more about the plays as a body: 
namely, that they put Wilde into a secondary posi- 
tion with regard to Pinero and Mr. Sydney Grundy. 
His plays are not literary or intellectual plays, but 
just the conventional things which were stirring 
in London during Wilde's period, with the Wilde 
paradox, irony, flippancy and insincerity thrown 
in. I am no frantic believer in the supreme gifts 
of Mr. George Bernard Shaw, and I have never 
been able to get up any great enthusiasm for the 
sentimentalities of Sir J. M. Barrie; but it is quite 
certain that both these gentlemen have beaten 
Wilde as exponents of a drama which is supposed 



The Plays and Prose Works 223 

to be concerned with art and literature rather than 
with the stage and the box-office. 

Wilde will not last as a dramatist, whether behind 
the footlights or in the closet. His plays have been 
revived occasionally, and the glitter has been found 
in a great measure to have died out of them ; while 
as plays for reading they w^ould not be read at all 
if they bore any other name but Wilde's. I will ask 
any unbiassed person to peruse Lady Windermere's 
Fan or, if you like, An Ideal Husband and The Im- 
portance of being Earnest ^ and tell me if here is 
great work. I do not wish to load these pages with 
quotations from books which are readily obtainable ; 
but if I were so disposed I could set forth twaddling 
and mock-heroic dialogue and feeble humour from 
Wilde's plays by the yard. There are passages in 
all the plays which might have been written by 
a sentimental schoolgirl rather than by an artist, 
or by a giggling actor rather than a wit. I shall not 
say that the plays failed of their purpose, which, 
however, could have been at best only a temporary 
purpose. A man who boasted of the intellectual 
superiorities of which Wilde boasted, demeaned 
himself when he wrote them, and still more hope- 
lessly demeaned himself when he pretended to take 
the popular applause which followed for honest 



224 Oscar Wilde and Myself 

fame. I was constantly with him, as I have shown^ 
when he wrote the most successful of them. In a 
careless way I aided and abetted him in their pro- 
duction, but it never entered my mind that they 
were either fine drama or fine literature. And 
whatever Wilde himself might have thought about 
them, he certainly would not have contended that 
they were wonderful works or genius before me. I 
do not wish to suggest that a man of genius is not 
entitled to condescend to the demands of the popular 
stage in certain circumstances, such as need of 
money or a desire to show that genius can do com- 
mon things quite as capably as common people ; and 
it is therefore that I do not blame Wilde for writing 
the prose plays. But it is obviously illogical and 
idiotic of him to turn round and profess that be- 
cause he could tickle the popular fancy of his period^ 
the work with which he did it is as fine and as 
worthy as anything in dramatic literature. Nobody 
knew better than he how false and foolish and how 
subversive of reason such an assumption must be^ 
Wilde's ''boomsters" have gone further in this 
stupid business than even Wilde himself would have 
gone. If we are to believe what they write, Wilde 
is the greatest dramatist since Shakespeare, and 
beats Goldsmith, Congreve, Sheridan and all the 
rest of them into a cocked hat. The cold truth is; 



The Plays and Prose Works 225 

that he never succeeded in rivalling Sir Arthur 
Pinero or Mr. Jones, and that he has been out- 
distanced by his own pupil, Mr. George Bernard 
Shaw. 



CHAPTER XVIII 

FOR POSTERITY 

THERE is a critical shibboleth to the effect 
that no man can rightly judge his contem- 
poraries. The true inwardness of this very 
comforting idea lies in its extreme utility where 
persons of mediocre intellect are concerned. Per- 
sons who write feeble poetry and silly plays, not to 
mention offensive fiction, always pretend to put 
their hopes in posterity. My contention is that 
posterity is not likely to be much more imbecile than 
the contemporary world, and that the foolish hopes 
of vain and incompetent people are consequently 
ill-founded. A feeble poem is not to be strength- 
ened by the mere process of time any more than a 
piece of strong work is likely to be weakened or 
degraded. It is singular to note, too, that people 
seldom appeal to posterity when they are being ap- 
plauded. For a man with bouquets in his hand and 
the laurel on his brow posterity does not exist. On 
the other hand, for all of us, whoever we may be, 

posterity has its use, and, though I do not think that 

226 



For Posterity 227 

these uses are important to us, they nevertheless 
exist. By way, therefore, of a sporting offer, as it 
were, I shall reach a hand through time and ask 
posterity to do me a favour, which is this : when I 
have been dead fifty years let some critic of parts 
put on one side Wilde's published work, the present 
work and my own poems and verses; and let him 
put on the other side all the biographies of Wilde 
he can lay his hand on, together with the parts 
of "De Profundis" which are now lying in the 
British Museum; and when he has examined care- 
fully and critically these two bundles of material, 
let him say without fear or favour who has drawn 
the true picture — Lord Alfred Douglas or Messrs. 
Ross, Ransome, Sherard and Harris. 

I shall sink or swim on some such decision, and 
I am content. At the present moment it is to the 
interest of everybody directly concerned that the 
Wilde myth should continue to exist. It is excellent 
for Wilde's publishers, excellent for the printing, 
paper and bookbinding trades, and excellent for 
those critics and editors who are best known by 
their labours in connection with Wilde. For them 
it is merely a matter of trade, and innocent enough. 
It is also excellent for those depraved persons who 
take Wilde as their moral guide and who profess 
to believe — and, possibly, do believe— that the 



228 Oscar Wilde and Myself 

viciousness for which Wilde suffered imprisonment 
is a species of superior virtue; and it is also excel- 
lent for that vast multitude of persons who, while 
they may have no particular sympathy with Wilde's 
depravities, are, nevertheless, of oblique mind and 
cynically immoral intellect. In the aggregate these 
people are very strong, much stronger than the easy- 
going, uncorrupted masses of humanity imagine. 
They are so strong in England and so numerous 
that it is profitable to flood the country with Wilde's 
works at a shilling. They are so strong in the 
press that it is next door to impossible to find a 
critical review or newspaper wherein Wilde's name 
is not mentioned, from time to time, with bated 
breath and whispered humbleness. They are so 
strong socially that the Wilde evangelists are wel- 
comed in the highest political and social circles. 
And they are so insidious that they have succeeded 
in upsetting the usually calm judgment of the Bench 
and the Bar. We have seen Mr. F. E. Smith, k.c, 
weeping crocodile tears over Wilde's memory and 
expressing the hope that his sins were forgotten and 
that his genius might be left to blaze brilliantly in 
all men's sight without so much as a rude air to 
disturb it. 

There are two interests, however, which these 
bands of champions habitually ignore. One is the 




m 

O PM 

H 



For Posterity 229 

interest of letters and the other is the interest of 
the pubHc morals. It is not in the interest of letters 
that any writer, however capable, should be given 
honour and adulation beyond his merits. When 
Wilde is set up for the supreme artist all other 
artists in all time are degraded thereby; when 
Wilde is set up for a poet of the first order, all other 
poets suffer damage by comparison; and when 
Wilde is set up for a moralist, there is just a lunatic, 
anarchist end of morals. The question of the pub- 
lic interest is largely bound up in these things. But 
outside of them there are ever graver matters. I 
maintain that even if we dismiss Wilde's private 
shamefulness from the account, he is still to be con- 
demned by reason of the nature and intention of his 



writmgs. 



As I shall show in the chapter on "Dorian Gray," 
Wilde himself admitted that ''Dorian Gray'' was a 
poisonous book. In its own way 'The Sphinx" is 
just as poisonous, and so are many passages in the 
essays which go to make up "Intentions." In the 
plays we find him continually flying in the face of 
the rules of conduct which make life possible and 
keep it sweet. He preaches always (flatly or by 
innuendo) that vice is at least more interesting than 
virtue; that insincerity is better and more to be de- 
sired than truth; that cynical carelessness and in- 



230 Oscar Wilde and Myself 

difference are more comely than kind feeling and 
altruism; and that the whole end and aim of life 
is to eat delicately, sleep softly and be as wicked 
and depraved as you like, provided that you are 
wicked and depraved in a graceful manner. I find 
myself utterly incapable of acquiescing in such a 
scandalous view of the reasons and purposes of 
human existence, and I say my say accordingly. 
It would have been easier and more profitable for 
me to have made a book about Wilde which would 
not have appeared harsh or severe or in any way 
offensive to the factions which ring him round. 
The breaking up of other people's gods, even though 
they happen to be gods of clay, is not a job for a 
man of a pacific turn of mind. Wilde knew that 
some day a true biographical and critical account 
of himself would have to be written and, doubtless, 
on the principle of getting one's blow in first, he put 
it on record that it is always Judas who is the biog- 
rapher. The late lamented Charles Peace was of 
the same opinion, and so, doubtless, were many 
other unpleasant and somewhat exploded persons, 
accounts of whose lives have still to be written. It 
is conceivable that there are circumstances in which 
honest biography is of slight consequence. In point 
of fact, all biography that matters is largely a sort 
of exegesis and commentary on the life work of its 



For Posterity 231 

subject. The biographies of persons who have done 
nothing are, in the nature of things, unprofitable. 
Wilde made a stir in the world, and his drum- 
beaters and fuglemen have made an even greater 
stir on his behalf. It is right and proper that while 
the noise is still in the air we should endeavour to 
discover its real meaning and to get sight of the in- 
struments by which it is produced. 



CHAPTER XIX 

THE BRITISH MUSEUM AND "dE PROFUNDIS" 

I HAVE already shown that it was not until 
the Ransome trial was well on the way that 
I had any idea of the existence of the unpub- 
lished parts of ''De Profundis'' or that the whole 
manuscript had originally been couched in the form 
of a letter to me. As soon as I heard rumours of 
these facts I communicated with Mr. Robert Ross, 
and was informed definitely of them by Messrs. 
Lewis and Lewis, who, in their letter to me, asserted 
that "I must have known'' of the existence of the 
manuscript and that my name was omitted from the 
published parts out of ''consideration for my feel- 
ings." It is perfectly obvious that there is nothing 
in the published parts of ''De Profundis" to which 
I could take exception, nor should I have been in the 
least degree injured if Mr. Ross had let it be known 
that the published parts were addressed to me in- 
stead of leaving it to be inferred that they had been 
addressed to him. It is true that when I had a con- 
versation with him prior to the publication of the 

232 



British Museum and'*De Profundis" 233 

book, Ross told me that there were certain refer- 
ences in it which I might not have Hked, but he also 
told me that these had been expunged, and I under- 
stood that the book was really a letter addressed to 
himself. This is as far as my information went up 
to the time of the action. 

Before the trial I obtained, by order of the Court, 
discovery of the unpublished part of "De Pro- 
fundis." I handed the document to Mr. T. W. H. 
Crosland, who, after perusing it, insisted on reading 
it to me from the first word to the last. I gave him 
answers then and there on every point he chose to 
raise, and I don't mind admitting that his examina- 
tion of me was a good deal closer and a good deal 
keener than that of Mr. Campbell, k.c, who cross- 
examined me on behalf of Ransome. 

It was not until we got into Court that we knew 
that Mr. Ross had been so kind as to hand over 
the unpublished parts of the ''De Profundis" MS. 
to the authorities of the British Museum as a pres- 
ent to the nation with the condition that they were 
to remain under seal till 1960, and that the British 
Museum authorities had been gracious enough to 
accept the gift. It is not for me to profess to know 
upon what principle the British Museum accepts 
gifts of secret documents. One takes it that some- 
body at the British Museum must have taken the 



234 Oscar Wilde and Myself 

trouble to read the MS. before it was accepted and 
sealed up, and that unless the person who perused 
it was a sheer idiot he must have perceived that it 
contained much scurrilous and libellous matter not 
only concerning myself, but concerning the Dow- 
ager Marchioness of Queensberry and other mem- 
bers of my family. Yet the MS. was accepted and 
is now in possession and control of the officials at 
the British Museum. With these facts before us 
we are brought face to face with an entirely new 
and unprecedented range of possibilities. I flatter 
myself that when I die any lengthy MS. of mine 
which I might care to write would have some slight 
value for persons concerned in the collection of 
holographs and similar material for museums. It 
is open to me, therefore, to sit down and write a 
villainous attack upon any eminent person with 
whom I may chance to be acquainted and to arrange 
that my executor shall present it to the British 
Museum to be treasured for the nation and put to 
such uses as the British Museum may at any time 
deem to be fitting. How many manuscripts of this 
nature may already be lurking on the British 
Museum's shelves the wise authorities alone know. 
Fifty years hence we may wake up to a due knowl- 
edge of the "real" characters of most of our most 
noted public men, written by other eminent public 



British Museum and "De Profundis" 235 

men who have had real or imaginary grievances 
against them. It may well be that we shall have 
the pleasure of reading Mr. Lloyd George's inside 
opinions of Lord Reading and his brethren, written 
in Mr. Lloyd George's own hand at the National 
Liberal Club in moments of irritation or depression 
after the Marconi affair. Possibly Mr. Keir Hardie 
may have consigned to the same safe and honour- 
able keeping some of his extraordinary opinions 
about certain dukes and certain judges ; and to come 
into other fields, Mr. Clement K. Shorter may have 
lodged his private and innermost view of the char- 
acter and habits of Sir William Robertson NicoU, 
Mr. Thomas Hardy, Miss Marie Corelli, and heaven 
and the British Museum alone know whom else be- 
sides. And what a chance is herein opened up for 
Mr. Frank Harris ! He has known and apparently 
loved Carlyle, Huxley, Meredith, Matthew Arnold 
and Oscar Wilde, not to mention Lord Randolph 
Churchill, Mr. Asquith, Mr. Ben Tillet and other 
notabilities. He has nothing to do but to write what 
he likes about them and present the result to the 
British Museum, for opening and publication in 
that annus mirahilis 1960. 

Of course, it is ridiculous to suppose that any 
of the persons I have mentioned possess spleen and 
impudence enough to degrade themselves by doing 



236 Oscar Wilde and Myself 

anything of the kind. But the fact remains that 
the British Museum authorities are sitting at the 
receipt of custom, with open and itching palms, and 
that in Wilde's case they have received, and, not 
only so, but have refused to disgorge when they 
were caught at it. 

I quite admit that, having once accepted on be- 
half of the nation a relic of any kind, the British 
Museum is bound to be cautious about parting with 
It again. This, doubtless, is the refuge behind 
which the authorities take their stand; but the real 
point is whether they were ever justified in accept- 
ing it at all, and whether, in any case, it was in the 
public interest that such a manuscript should be 
accepted. In law, the paper on which any letter is 
written belongs to the person to whom it is ad- 
dressed. The "De Profundis'' manuscript is ad- 
dressed to me, on the face of it, and I hold that I have 
a moral if not a legal right to its possession. But 
leaving this aspect of the question on one side, the 
British Museum authorities will surely not contend 
that it is to the interest of anybody in the world, 
other than those persons who delight in scandal, 
backbiting and malice, that such a manuscript 
should be preserved. What possible motive that 
is worthy can be offered as an excuse by these 
people? Argue as they will, they must perceive 



British Museum and ''De Profundis" 237 

that the manuscript is one which in no conceivable 
circumstances can be considered to reflect anything 
but discredit on its author. When it is published — 
and it will be out of copyright one day — Oscar 
Wilde is finished. No reputation, however securely 
founded, can hope to survive the moral debacle 
which this manuscript demonstrates to have taken 
place in the mind of Oscar Wilde. It is said that 
there must be honour even among thieves. A man 
may do despicable things and still retain a share of 
the respect of his fellow-men. Murderers have 
gone to their doom and have yet compelled some 
sort of respect from the world in the manner of 
their doing it. As the published reports of the 
Ransome trial show, Wilde has whined and shuffled 
and protested and wept and tried to shift his re- 
sponsibilities to innocent shoulders ; and the British 
Museum is to make a public treasure of the record 
of his infamy and keep it for him until such time 
as it may be published without unpleasant legal con- 
sequences. 

For myself I do not care tuppence about the 
contents of this manuscript. I was anxious that 
It should be read out word for word in Court at 
the Ransome trial. If this had been done, and 
the counsel for the defence had dared to cross- 
examine me on it in detail, I should have won my 



238 Oscar Wilde and Myself 

case. On the insistence of my counsel a pretence 
was made of reading it, but not twenty pages had 
been got through before Mr. Justice DarHng inter- 
vened, and the reading of the MS. as a whole was 
discontinued. Thereafter only such portions were 
read as were supposed to be greatly to my detri- 
ment. Although these passages were read, I was 
never so much as asked, either by judge or counsel, 
to say if there was any truth in them. Wilde had 
written them in mad rage when he was caged up in 
a squalid gaol, a disgraced and whimpering convict, 
and, of course, they must be true! The judge him- 
self pointed out that prisoners are apt to slander 
and unreason, but he did not tell the jury that they 
must take no notice of what had been read. Oscar 
Wilde had written it, Oscar Wilde was a man of 
genius, and they must form their own conclusions. 
The veriest tyro in law will tell you that such a docu- 
ment as this is no evidence at all and ought not to 
have been admitted. Yet it was admitted and parts 
selected by the defence were allowed to go to the 
jury. I think that common sense and common jus- 
tice demanded that we should have had all or none. 
If the British Museum authorities did not fully 
appreciate the nature of the manuscript at the time 
of its acceptance they have had every opportunity 
of making themselves conversant with its meaning 



British Museum and "De Profundis" 239 

and intention through what took place at the trial. 
They must surely have recognised that it is capable 
of being put — and, indeed, has been put — to the 
basest and most cowardly uses, and that it is, in 
essence, of absolutely no other use. For all that, it 
is still preserved, as though it were a literary gem 
of the first water instead of something which man- 
kind at large would be quite willing to let die. I am 
in no position to fight the British Museum for the 
possession of this abominable curiosity. If it had 
come into my hands at any time prior to the Ran- 
some trial it would have been simply thrown on 
the fire, not because I am afraid of it or because any 
of my family are afraid of it, but because, when all 
is said, I should have had too much respect for 
Wilde's memory and too much regard for letters 
ever t6 consent to its publication. But it has never 
been in my hands, and it is now no longer possible 
for it to be kept secretly. Responsible persons at 
the British Museum may well be left to their own 
reflections upon the wisdoms of preserving this 
mummified libel. 



CHAPTER XX 

ransome's "critical study" 

I AM not going to trouble the reader with an 
account of the "Life and Works" of Mr. 
Arthur Ransome, one of whose claims to fame 
lies in the fact that he was a defendant in the 
Ransome trial. His critical study of Oscar Wilde 
is a lumbering, apologetic performance dedicated 
to Robert Ross and with an evident regard for the 
opinions of Ross even where criticism is concerned. 
The passages in it which I held to be libellous upon 
myself have been expunged, and, according to Ran- 
some, this was done with a view to sparing my feel- 
ings. The edition current among the public, how- 
ever, is not published by the original publishing 
house, but by another firm, and both this firm and 
Mr. Ransome will, doubtless, be startled to hear that 
if they had ventured to insert the passages of which 
I complained in the edition for which they are re- 
sponsible I should have immediately served writs 
for libel upon them and taken my chances of another 
"evisceration" in the witness-box. Possibly Mr. 

240 



Ransome's '^Critical Study" 241 

Ransome had no inkling of this when he put his 
wonderfully magnanimous note to the new edition, 
but his publishers are wise people. 

Ransome's "Critical Study/' at a shilling, has 
been planted on Smith's stalls and at all the shilling 
bookselling booths throughout the country, ever 
since the trial, with the name "Oscar Wilde" printed 
large on the dust cover, and the name of "Ransome" 
not quite so large. I am going to take the edition 
as it stands, because the original edition was with- 
drawn by the publishers and can only have had a 
very limited circulation. It deals with the facts of 
Wilde's life in the briefest way, and is devoted 
mainly to a pretentious discussion of Wilde's writ- 
ings. I may best sum up its critical announcements 
by saying that they are all of them what Ross would 
have liked them to be. Beginning with the poems, 
Ransome assures us that "Ravenna" is an admirable 
prize poem. He tells us that Wilde's early poems 
are "rich in imitations" and full of "variations of 
other men's music," adding that they are vari- 
ations to which the personality of the virtuoso has 
given "a certain uniformity." "Certain" is good, in 
view of the fact that these poems are most distinctly 
not uniform in any single quality which appertains 
to poetry. Of Wilde's apings of Milton he says: 
"Some of those exercises, which are among the most 



242 Oscar Wilde and Myself 

interesting he wrote, suggest the new view of the 
morale of imitation" ; and he goes on to tell us that 
''Wilde made himself, as it were, the representative 
poet of his period. People who had heard of Rossetti 
and Swinburne, but never read them, were able to 
recover their self-respect by purchasing Wilde/' 
Was ever such arrant nonsense put before a con- 
fiding public, even at a shilling ? Mr. Ransome was 
in swaddling clothes when Wilde's early volume 
was going through its five editions, otherwise he 
would know that for one person who ''recovered 
his self-respect" by purchasing Wilde there were 
fifty persons who were purchasing and reading 
Swinburne and Rossetti without worrying about 
their self-respect at all. 

Mr. Ransome is full of admiration for the early 
poems as a body. He cannot deny that "the young 
man's verse was grossly derivative," or that Milton, 
Dante, Marlowe, Keats, Browning and others "make 
up a goodly list of sufferers by this light-hearted 
corsair's piracies," but he asks the reader to believe 
that Wilde's plagiarism was a really pretty gift and 
all to the advantage of letters, and that the poems 
are to be valued as the early work of a great man 
and, for that matter, a great poet. I should have 
wished that Mr. Ransome might have given us a 
more explicit condemnation of the moral aspect of 



Ransome's ''Critical Study" 243 

'The Sphinx." His final remark is that "it is as 
if a man were finding solace for his feverish hands 
in the touch of cool, hard stones, and at the same 
time stimulating his fever by the sexual excitement 
of contrast between the over-sensitive and the 
utterly insensible" — whatever this may mean. 

On the prose Mr. Ransome spreads his butter 
very thick and, by way of apology and blessing 
for ''Dorian Gray," he has the following specious 
paragraphs: "Perhaps the reason why it was so 
loudly accused of immorality was that in the pop- 
ular mind luxury and sin are closely allied, and the 
unpardonable mannerism that made him preach in 
a parable against the one, did not hide his whole- 
hearted delight in describing the other." . . . 
" 'Dorian Gray,' for all its faults, is such a book. It 
is unbalanced; and that is a fault. It is a mosaic, 
hurriedly made by a man who reached out in all 
directions and took and used in his work whatever 
scrap of jasper or porphyry or broken flint was put 
into his hand; and that is not a virtue. But in it 
there is an individual essence, a private perfume, a 
colour whose secret has been lost. There are moods 
whose consciousness that essence, perfume, colour 
is needed to intensify." 

And all this — mind you — of a book which Wilde 
himself called "poisonous," and which Mr. Ran- 



244 Oscar Wilde and Myself 

some's own publishers, Messrs. Methuen, declined 
to include at any price in their various editions of 
Wilde's works. There is a great deal to pretty 
much the same effect about "Intentions" and the 
plays. Everything that Wilde has done is wonder- 
ful from the Ransome point of view, and his liter- 
ary faults and failings are beautifully explained 
away or made the occasion for the handing up of 
bouquets, until we come right down to the appended 
somewhat mild reproof : "In 1889, before the malefi- 
cent flood of gold was poured upon him, he had 
become accustomed to indulge the vice that, openly 
alluded to in the days and verses of 'Catullus/ is 
generally abhorred and hidden in our own." 

I have previously shown that Ransome goes out 
of his way in another place to indicate that Wilde's 
best work was done during the period when he was 
"an habitual devotee" to the vice in question, and 
he is not content even with this subtle hint, but 
goes on to suggest that Wilde's knowledge of his 
own infamy may have induced in him "a height- 
ened ardour of production." I am aware that the 
impropriety of this sort of criticism can be readily 
explained away on the ground that it is honest or 
scientific; but the fact remains that such criticism 
must convey some vague suggestion that the literary 
result — in Wilde's case, at least — was an excuse for 



Ransome's "Critical Study'' 245 

the vice. Such an impression should not be de- 
rivable from what professes to be a ''critical study" 
of literary work. 

It is the custom of all persons who wish to defend 
dubious or immoral publications, such as I judge 
some of Wilde's works to be, to assert that the same 
thing is done in France — which country they assert 
to be the Mother of all the Arts — and that nobody 
complains and no harm has accrued. If this were 
true of the French or any other people I do not know 
that it would be good argument; but, as a matter 
of fact, it is not true. Frenchmen have undoubt- 
edly been the greatest sinners in the composition 
of undesirable books, and that they are beginning 
to reap what they have sown is quite evident from 
the condition of French public morals to-day. 
France admits that the greatest of her social prob- 
lems at the moment lies in the utterly vicious and 
decadent tendencies of French youth, particularly 
of the lower and middle classes. But Frenchmen 
are beginning to perceive that just as the apache 
and the adolescent criminal are the direct outcome 
of the neglect of religious and moral teaching in 
the French national schools, so the unsavoury in- 
tellectual art-mongers and Wilde-worshippers Vv^ho 
are so thick upon the ground in middle-class French 
society owe themselves, in the m.ain, to the per- 



246 Oscar Wilde and Myself 

nicious literature upon which the French law places 
no check. It may be useful to remember here that 
even in that great and glorious centre of artistic 
freedom — Paris — the authorities declined to allow 
the proposed monument to be erected over Wilde's 
grave in Pere la Chaise until certain modifications 
had been made in the work. It was a bitter blow 
to some of the Wilde faction, but the authorities of 
Paris were inexorable, and those responsible for the 
monument learned a lesson that they could not 
do as they liked, even in France. I do not say 
that Mr. Ransome has anything to do with this, 
but I do say that anybody who, by so much as a 
word or a phrase, minimises Wilde's vices or vicious 
writing in the name of Art is not sufficiently alive 
to the danger of one of the most scandalous move- 
ments that has ever excited and betrayed mankind. 




MONUMENT ERECTED OVER OSCAR WILDES GRAVE, 
PERE LA CHAISE, PARIS 



I CHAPTER XXI ] 

MY ACTIONS FOR LIBEL 

THE number of writs which I have had from 
time to time to issue over the Wilde affair 
is past my count. If I had invoked the law 
on every occasion upon which I have been Hbelled 
over it, I suppose that the fees for writs alone would 
have run into hundreds of pounds. For some years 
I allowed people to say whatever they might choose 
to say about me without lifting a finger against them. 
I believed in Wilde, who was my friend : I believed 
in his genius and I had an exaggerated opinion 
about the value of some of his writings. It seemed 
to me that time would set me right; and it seemed 
to me important, both for Wilde's sake and the sake 
of letters, that I should avoid, so far as was pos- 
sible, stirring up the mud which I knew lay at the 
bottom of his life. By the time Wilde came out of 
prison I formed a sort of habit of taking no notice 
whatever of either his or my detractors. After his 
death I let everybody who had known him rush into 
print about him without offering the slightest con- 

247 



248 Oscar Wilde and Myself 

tribution to the discussion. Sherard produced two 
books purporting to be biographies of Wilde. Other 
books on Wilde have been written by various hands ; 
Mr. Ingleby has written a life, and I believe biog- 
raphies have been published in America. I can 
honestly say, however, that I have not troubled 
even to read any of these works. Though I have 
quoted from Sherard in the present volume, I have 
not read either of his books through. Ingleby's 
book I have glanced at and Ransome's ''Critical 
Study" I read through for the first time in July of 
last year. My opinions as to the importance of 
Wilde's writings began to change as my reading 
extended and my mind took hold of serious things. 
A man's critical judgment is not at its best at 
twenty-eight, especially in regard to the artistic 
productions of his intimates. Even when we were 
together I had told Wilde over and over again that 
he overrated himself and that he was not by any 
means the great man he believed himself to be. To 
give him his due, he agreed with me. Nevertheless, 
after his death I held his memory as a friend and, 
if you like, even as a literary figure, in such regard 
that I never so much as dreamed of saying or writ- 
ing anything which would be likely to injure him. 
We had had our differences. I knew that he had 
written me one angry letter in prison and I knew that 



My Actions for Libel 249 

for reasons of their own his intimates hated me; but 
he had apologised to me for his anger and admitted 
that it was unrighteous and ill-founded. I did 
everything that a man could do to succour and help 
him and make life possible for him after he left 
prison; and I was unremitting in kindness to him 
right down to the time of his death. He, for his 
part, seemed to be most kindly and affectionately 
disposed towards me and, for aught I knew to the 
contrary, would gladly have done for me what I 
gladly did for him if our positions had been re- 
versed. 

This thing is certain: that, during the whole of 
our close intimacy in Naples and Paris, subsequent 
to his downfall, he never once said or even hinted 
to me that he had anything to blame me for, or that, 
whether as regards finance or any other matters, 
I had treated him otherwise than generously and 
as one friend should treat another. He was a clever 
man and, in his way, a singularly astute man, but I 
never imagined that he was either clever or astute 
enough to keep up a show of affectionate friendship 
for a man whom he hated during the years that 
elapsed between his leaving Berneval and his death. 
At the last he drank a great deal more than was 
good for him, and when alcohol began to have a 
power over him and make him drunk, the wine was 



250 Oscar Wilde and Myself 

in and the wit was out in Oscar Wilde's case just 
as in any other man's. If he had cherished resent- 
ments against me and had succeeded in hiding them 
when he was sober, I should have thought he would 
have given me an inkling of them when he was 
drunk, but he never did. Yet all the time the manu- 
script of "De Profundis'' was in existence, and Mr. 
Ross held his instructions to publish it. 

Now, when I found in a book — which was ob- 
viously intended to be the apotheosis of Wilde, but 
was dedicated to Ross, and which claimed to put 
forth the major facts of Wilde's life on the author- 
ity of Ross as to biographical details — statements 
to the effect that I had been in some way responsible 
for his public obloquy, and that I basely deserted 
him when his money was spent, I cannot see that 
there was any possible course open to me but to have 
the matter threshed out in a court of law. I ac- 
cordingly issued writs upon the whole of the parties 
who were legally concerned: that is to say, on the 
author, the publisher, the printers, and a represen- 
tative firm of distributors. The printers apologised 
and the publisher withdrew the book from circula- 
tion, and they were allowed to drop out of the action. 
The 'Times Book Club" put in a defence on tech- 
nical grounds, and Ransome, for his part, put in a 
plea of justification. That plea could never have 



My Actions for Libel 251 

been framed without the assistance and co-opera- 
tion of Ross. I knew perfectly well what it would, 
in all probability, contain before ever I saw it. It 
was never really put to the jury. Recourse was had 
to other measures. Ross was in possession of a few 
old letters of mine; the British Museum had the 
unpublished parts of "De Profundis"; Truth had 
the letters which I had addressed to Labouchere, 
and Messrs. Russell — a firm of solicitors of which 
the Honourable Charles Russell is the principal — 
produced — I presume under subpoena — the idiot 
letter from Wilde to myself which my father pro- 
duced at Wilde's trial at the Old Bailey. Of my 
letters to Wilde, Ross and Labouchere there is, 
since they were not in the defendants' possession, 
no mention whatever in the defendants' affidavit of 
documents, and consequently I had no warning of 
them. 

Of the "De Profundis" manuscript I was given 
due notice and, of course, I knew that Wilde's 
own letter — which is a letter which reflects discredit 
on Wilde rather than on anybody else — would be 
sure to turn up. So that my letters to Wilde and 
Ross and the letters to Truth — the former sixteen 
years old and the latter eighteen or twenty years 
old — were sprung on me as I stood in the witness- 
box. They proved absolutely nothing, but it was 



252 Oscar Wilde and Myself 

natural that they should make prejudice; and I com- 
plain, not that they were produced, but that they 
were produced without my being given an oppor- 
tunity of perusing them and calling to mind the 
circumstances in which they were written. I said 
in the witness-box what I sincerely felt and feel — 
namely : that I am ashamed of having written them ; 
but I will say here and now what I tried to say then, 
which is that the other side ought to be much more 
ashamed of having produced them. What the de- 
fence really did in effect was to say: "If you didn't 
ruin Wilde and desert him because he had no more 
money to spend on you, you did something else 
which justifies us in saying anything we like about 
you." In point of fact, this is always what happens 
where actions for libel are concerned. You libel a 
man in a most cruel and vicious way, and if he takes 
an action against you you go to court and libel him 
still further. Mr. Ransome got his verdict and, 
though I would have appealed against it if I had 
possessed the means, he is fully entitled to it in law. 
He is entitled to go on saying that I ruined Wilde, 
or that I lived on Wilde, till he is black in the face 
if he can get anybody to print and stand the racket 
of it. But who will believe him? Even with the 
jury's verdict to give it sanction, the thing is too 
preposterous for words. The Ransome affair had 



My Actions for Libel 253 

made no particular difference to me ; but what has it 
done for Wilde ? Here were these people with two 
short paragraphs which had nothing to do with 
and could not possibly help their book in the least. 
When I started my action against them I did not 
ask for damages and should have been content with 
a withdrawal of the paragraphs, and, in the long run, 
they have had to be withdrawn. If this had been 
done before the trial I should never have known of 
the existence of the unpublished parts of "De Pro- 
fundis'' and the public would never have known of 
them till 1960. The present book would not have 
been written and the Wilde myth would have gone 
merrily on its way rejoicing, until it was exploded 
by process of time. So that clearly Wilde profits 
nothing, but, on the whole, loses disastrously and 
perhaps prematurely, and his tumble has been 
brought about by the very persons who profess to 
be his most devoted and zealous friends. Knowing 
what they must have known, and particularly know- 
ing that I had not asked for damages, they would 
have taken good care that no action took place if 
they had sufficiently valued Wilde. They are fifteen 
hundred pounds out of pocket, and the radiant 
picture of Oscar Wilde, which they had been at 
pains to limn, can be radiant no more. Even Mr. 
Justice Darling and Mr. F. E. Smith cannot save 



254 Oscar Wilde and Myself 

it in its pristine beauty. The former was kind 
enough to explain to a crowded court that Lord 
Alfred Douglas *'might" have achieved some suc- 
cess in letters if he had put his talents to assiduous 
use, while the latter said that Lord Alfred Douglas 
had, in some way which was not explained, outraged 
every tradition of his class. Mr. Justice Darling 
forgot that I am still the possessor of a pen far 
more able than his own, and Mr. F. E. Smith forgot 
that, unlike himself, I belong to a class which takes 
no stock in cant and is not to be put down by windy 
rhetoric; a class, too, which does not look to Mr. 
Horatio Bottomley for a push into prominence. 



CHAPTER XXII 
"the picture of dorian gray'* 

WILDE had written and published "The 
Picture of Dorian Gray" two years be- 
fore I knew him. At the time of its 
appearance in Lippincott's Magazine I was an 
undergraduate at Oxford and, so far as I know, 
neither Wilde nor myself had ever set eyes on one 
another. I mention this because it has been pre- 
tended that Wilde took me for the model for one 
of his beastly characters. Dates are pretty stubborn 
things, however, and there can be no doubt what- 
ever that "The Picture of Dorian Gray" was pub- 
lished in 1890. Not only so, but, by the time I came 
to know Wilde, the hubbub which the story had 
first created had altogether died away ; and as I did 
not read the book with any sort of care or critical 
intention till years afterwards, it never entered into 
my mind that it expressed the peculiar views of life 
which it is said to illustrate. Wilde talked about 
the book sometimes as a highly moral work which 
had been hopelessly misunderstood by the critics, 

255 



256 Oscar Wilde and Myself 

and he gave me a copy of it in which, as was his 
custom, he inscribed his name; and I did not read 
the book again until the time of my father's action 
against Wilde. Even then I did not read it closely 
or with any grave attention. I took it for granted 
for what Wilde says it was — namely: a work of 
art with an excellent moral; and I do not wish to 
say now that it is not a work of art or that it does 
not point a very splendid moral for morally disposed 
people. It has been reviewed as such in more than 
one important religious paper. At the time when 
I was editing The Academy I blamed Messrs. Meth- 
uen for not having the pluck to include the book in 
their editions of Wilde's works. It seems to me 
preposterous that if a book can be sold openly at 
any English bookshop it should be refused inclusion 
among the author's works by his own publishers. 
Since I made my protest on this matter, however, 
the whole question of Wilde and his books has 
undergone a marked and, to my mind, a most dan- 
gerous change. I quite anticipated that the day 
would arrive when Wilde's disgrace might, in a 
sense, be dissociated from his writings. I looked 
to time and common sense to winnow out what was 
good in those writings and reject what was noxious 
or deleterious. It never occurred to me that I 
should live to see Wilde used in the way in which 



n 



The Picture of Dorian Gray" 257 



he has been used, and is being used, to the en- 
dangerment of letters and morals. We are now 
face to face with this fact — namely: that there 
exists in England as well as in France, Germany 
and Russia, a distinct and recognisable Wilde cult, 
which has as its creed that Wilde was one of the 
greatest geniuses that ever lived. To this large 
following, which accepts Wilde's vices as a sign 
of genius, 'The Picture of Dorian Gray" has proved 
to be a powerful weapon. It is a book after their 
own heart, and its wit and the moral which it points 
— or does not point, according as one may take it — 
enable these people to employ it in subtle and de- 
vious ways. I cannot help believing that Wilde 
must have intended ''Dorian Gray'' as a fleer at 
morality. In effect he may be said to have laid 
himself out to write a sermon the interest of which 
should really depend on obscenities. He puts be- 
fore us one of the vilest of human creatures, and, 
without particularising as to the nature of his vile- 
ness, brings him to an infamous and therefore 
poetically just end ; but the danger of the thing lies 
in that, while nine people out of ten could not have 
told you at the time of the publication of the book 
wherein the peculiar sin of "Dorian Gray" lay, quite 
ninety people out of a hundred can now tell you. 
What was laughed at for affectation in 1891 as- 



258 Oscar Wilde and Myself 

sumed a sinister and altogether an abominable 
aspect as the years went on and the true effect and 
intention of Wilde's work began to make itself ap- 
parent. I am not going into details, but everybody 
knows what I mean. 

It may be interesting if I print in this place por- 
tions of a review of the story which appeared in 
the St James' Gazette for June 24th, 1890. 'Time 
was (it was in the 70's) when we talked about 
Mr. Oscar Wilde; time came (it was in the '80's) 
when he tried to write poetry and, more adventurous, 
we tried to read it ; time is when we had forgotten 
him — or only remembered him as the late editor of 
the Woman's World — a part for which he was sin- 
gularly unfitted if we are to judge him by the work 
which he has been allowed to publish in Lippincotfs 
Magazine, and which Messrs. Ward, Lock and Co. 
have not been ashamed to circulate in Great Britain. 
Not being curious in ordure, and not wishing to 
offend the nostrils of decent persons, we do not pro- 
pose to analyse The Picture of Dorian Gray' — 
that would be to advertise the developments of an 
esoteric prurience. The puzzle is that a young man 
of decent parts who enjoyed, when he was at Ox- 
ford, the opportunity of associating with gentlemen, 
should put his name — such as it is — to so stupid 
and vulgar a piece of work. Let nobody read it 



*The Picture of Dorian Gray'' 259 

in the hope of finding witty paradox or racy wicked- 
ness. The writer airs his cheap research among 
the garbage of the French decadents like any drivel- 
Hng pedant, and he bores you unmercifully with his 
prosy rigmaroles about the beauty of the body and 
the corruption of the soul. The grammar is better 
than Ouida's — the erudition equal; but in every 
other respect we prefer the talented lady who broke 
off with pious aposiopesis when she touched upon 
the horrors which are described in the pages of 
Suetonius and Livy — not to mention the yet worse 
infamies believed by many scholars to be accurately 
portrayed in the lost works of Plutarch, Venus and 
Nicodemus — especially Nicodemus. 

"Let us take one peep at the young men in Mr. 
Oscar Wilde's story. Puppy No. 1 is the painter 
of a picture of 'Dorian Gray' ; Puppy No. 2 is the 
critic (a courtesy lord, skilled in all the knowledge 
of the Egyptians and weary of all the sins and 
pleasures of London) ; Puppy No. 3 is the original, 
cultivated by Puppy No. 1 with a romantic friend- 
ship. The Puppies are all talking: Puppy No. 1 
about his heart, Puppy No. 2 about his sins and 
pleasures and the pleasures of sin, and Puppy No. 3 
about himself — always about himself and generally 
about his face, which is brainless and beautiful. 
The Puppies appear to fill up the intervals of talk 



260 Oscar Wilde and Myself 

by plucking daisies and playing with them, and 
sometimes by drinking something with strawberries 
in it. The youngest Puppy is told he is 'charming' ; 
but he mustn't sit in the sun for fear of spoiling his 
complexion. When he is rebuked for being a 
naughty, wilful boy he makes a pretty moue — 
this man of twenty! This is how he is addressed 
by the blase Puppy at their first meeting : 'Yes, Mr. 
Gray, the gods have been good to you. But what 
the gods give they quickly take away. When your 
mouth goes your beauty will go with it, and then 
you will suddenly discover that there are no tri- 
umphs left for you. . . . Time is jealous of you 
and wars against your lilies and roses. You will 
become sallow and hollow-cheeked and dull-eyed. 
You will suflfer horribly.' 

"Why, bless our souls! haven't we read some- 
thing of this kind somewhere in the classics ? Yes, 
of course we have ! But in what recondite author ? 
Ah, yes! — no! — yes! it was in Horace! What an 
advantage it is to have received a classical educa- 
tion, and how it will astonish the Yankees. But we 
must not forget our Puppies, who have probably 
occupied their time in lapping 'something with 
strawberries in it.' Puppy No. 1 (the art puppy) 
has been telling Puppy No. 3 (the dull puppy) how 
much he admired him. What is the answer? 'I 



''The Picture of Dorian Gray'' 261 

am less to you than your ivory Hermes or your 
silver Fawn. You will like them always. How 
long will you like me? — till I have my first wrinkle, 
I suppose. I know now that when one loses one's 
good looks, whatever they may be, one loses every- 
thing. ... I am jealous of the portrait you have 
painted of me. Why should it keep what I must 
lose? Oh, if it was only the other way! If the 
picture could only change and I could be always 
what I am now!' 

''No sooner said than done. The picture does 
change; the original doesn't. Here is a situation 
for you! Theophile Gautier could have made it 
romantic — entrancingly beautiful. Mr. Stevenson 
could have made it convincing, humorous, pathetic. 
Mr. Anstey could have made it screamingly funny. 
It has been reserved for Mr. Oscar Wilde to make 
it dull and nasty. The promising youth plunges 
into every kind of mean depravity, and ends in being 
cut by fast women and vicious men ; he finishes with 
murder. . . . And every wickedness or filthiness 
committed by Dorian Gray is faithfully registered 
upon his face in the picture ; but his living features 
are undisturbed and unmarred by his inward 
vileness. This is the story which Mr. Oscar Wilde 
has tried to tell. A very lame story it is and very 
lamely it is told. 



262 Oscar Wilde and Myself 

"Why has he told it? There are two explana- 
tions ; and, so far as we can see, not more than two. 
Not to give pleasure to his readers; the thing is 
too clumsy, too tedious and — alas that we should 
say it — too stupid! Perhaps it was to shock his 
readers in order that they might cry fie upon him 
and talk about him. Are we then to suppose that 
Mr. Oscar Wilde has yielded to the craving for a 
notoriety which he once earned by talking fiddle- 
faddle about other men's art, and seize his only 
chance of recalling it by making himself obvious at 
the cost of being obnoxious and by attracting the 
notice which the olfactory sense cannot refuse to 
the presence of certain self-asserting organisms? 
That is an uncharitable hypothesis, and we would 
gladly abandon it. It may be suggested — but is it 
more charitable? — that he derives pleasure from 
treating a subject merely because it is disgusting. 
The phenomenon is not unknown in recent liter- 
ature, and it takes two forms, in appearance widely 
separate — in fact, two branches from the same root 
— a root which draws its life from malodorous 
putrefaction. One development is found in the 
Puritan prurience which produced Tolstoy's 'Kreut- 
zer Sonata' and Mr. Stead's famous outbursts. 
That is odious enough and mischievous enough, and 
it is rightly execrated because it is tainted with a 



'•The Picture of Dorian Gray" 263 

hypocrisy not the less culpable because charitable 
people may believe it to be unconscious. But is it 
more odious or more mischievous than the frank 
paganism which delights in dirtiness and confesses 
its delight? Still, they are both chips from the 
same block — 'The Maiden Tribute of Modern 
Babylon' and 'The Picture of Dorian Gray' — and 
both of them ought to be chucked into the fire — 
not so much because they are dangerous and cor- 
rupt as because they are incurably silly, written by 
simple poseurs (whether they call themselves puritan 
or pagan) who know nothing about the life which 
they affect to have explored and because they are 
mere catchpenny revelations of the non-existent 
which, if they reveal anything at all, are revelations 
only of the singularly unpleasant minds from which 
they emerge." 

The last paragraph is significant as bearing out 
what I have said with regard to the difiference be- 
tween the public morals of the time when 'The 
Picture of Dorian Gray" was first published and 
the public morals of to-day. The review as a whole 
did not please Wilde, and he wrote to the editor of 
the St, James' Gazette to say that he was "quite 
incapable of understanding how any work of art 
can be criticised from a moral standpoint." This, 
plainly, was no answer to the review, nor can it 



264 Oscar Wilde and Myself 

be answered with reasonable argument. A sim- 
ilarly cutting article which appeared in the Daily 
Chronicle described ''Dorian Gray'' as ''a mixture 
of dullness and dirt" — ''a tale spawned from the 
leprous literature of the French decadents'' — ''a 
poisonous book, the atmosphere of which is heavy 
with the mephitic odours of moral and spiritual 
putrefaction" — ''a gloating study of the mental and 
physical corruption of a fresh, fair and golden 
youth." 'There is not a single good and holy im- 
pulse of human nature, scarcely a fine feeling or 
instinct that civilisation, art and religion have de- 
veloped throughout the ages as part of the barriers 
between Humanity and Animalism that is not held 
up to ridicule and contempt in 'Dorian Gray,' " con- 
tinued the Chronicle, To which, and a great deal 
more of similarly scathing comment, Wilde could 
muster up no better reply than to say : "My story is 
an essay on decorative art. It reacts against the 
crude brutality of plain realism. It is poisonous, 
if you like, but you cannot deny that it is also per- 
fect, and perfection is what we artists aim at." 

Neither the St, James' Gazette nor the Daily 
Chronicle could foresee that a book which they took 
to be the outcome of prowlings and garbage-hunt- 
ing among the French decadents would come to be 
the gospel and literary stand-by of a world-wide 



"The Picture of Dorian Gray" 265 

cult of moral and physical leprosy; but the thing has 
come to pass, and "Dorian Gray" goes on accom- 
plishing its mission, unquestioned by criticism, un- 
checked by authority, and belauded by every half- 
baked youth who can earn a precarious shilling by 
dabbling in ink. 



CHAPTER XXIII 

LITERATURE AND VICE 

WITH much more wisdom than appears 
on the surface of the remark, Mr. Ran- 
some tells us in the "Critical Study" 
that it is ''scarcely twenty years since Wilde wrote 
his books, and in poetry as well as in prose their 
influence is already becoming so common as not to 
be recognised." This is true, and true in the worst 
sense. Every objectionable book that is published 
at a reasonable price increases the trend — consid- 
ered impossible at one time in this country, but now 
obviously marked — towards a want of decency in 
our national literature. By a singular irony, the 
criticism of the day is largely in the hands of Rad- 
icals and Nonconformists, many of whom, by an 
irony still more singular, are engaged in the propa- 
gation of loose and pernicious doctrine. I would 
like to wager that the present book will be attacked 
with the greatest fury in precisely the quarters 
where, twenty years ago, it would have been ap- 
plauded. If I wish to see Wilde and his work 

266 



Literature and Vice 267 

spoken of with the greatest respect and the greatest 
admiration, I have nothing to do but turn to certain 
Radical or Nonconformist sheets, and I shall be at 
once obliged. I am of opinion that certain novels, 
and even certain magazines and reviews, now pub- 
lished in England would never have existed at all 
but for Oscar Wilde. One of the monthly reviews 
is a particular offender; and the infection is not 
limited to one paper only. Nobody seems to be 
shocked or distressed by the fact and nobody lifts 
a voice or a pen by way of complaint. The journals 
I have in my mind are, in the main, respectable and 
reasonably cultivated publications. They are above 
purchase or corruption in regard to their general 
conduct, being owned by rich men or syndicates and 
run in some instances at a loss or, at any rate, no 
particular profit, and for the good of the political 
interests they represent. They take a high tone 
with regard to political and social morality. They 
contain general articles, stories, sketches and so 
forth which are beyond reproach both as regards 
their tone and literary qualities. Yet when it comes 
to dealing with literature itself they may be found 
only too frequently on the side of the palpably du- 
bious and undesirable. 

, I have had several years of editorial experience 
of my own, and out of that experience I think I can 



268 Oscar Wilde and Myself 

explain the phenomenon. It simply amounts to 
this: Editors are too busy — or too careless — to 
select their reviewers judiciously and, when a book 
has been reviewed, they are too busy or too careless 
to examine the reviewer's work with a view to 
making sure that it is free from the current taints. 
It is a fact that the younger school of critics, and 
many of the old ones, now base themselves on 
Wilde's dictum that a work of art cannot be criti- 
cised from a moral standpoint, and that the sphere 
of art and the sphere of ethics are absolutely dis- 
tinct and separate. If the result were that the 
reviewer contented himself with the consideration 
of literary work qua art, and in no other relation, 
there would perhaps be no great harm done; but 
in point of fact this is seldom or never done, and 
it is next door to impossible that it should be done. 
Opinions and moral reflections insist on finding 
their way even into works of art, and literary works 
of art are, by their very nature, almost entirely 
made up of them. In spite of his own denial of the 
inter-relation between art and morals, Wilde always 
asserted that "Dorian Gray" had a moral — that is 
to say, when it suited him to make the assertion. 
It is obvious that any four lines of serious verse 
must have some sort of a moral bearing, and so 
every poem has a moral and every story has a moral 



Literature and Vice 269 

and every piece of writing has a moral — implied, 
even if it be not specifically stated. Now the new 
reviewer and all of the old ones know this as well 
as I do. They cannot divide art from morality, 
and when they pretend to do so it will usually be 
found that they are really condoning, defending, 
upholding or propagating obvious immorality. I 
do not wish it to be supposed that the review col- 
umns of English journals bristle with this sort of 
thing; but there can be no doubt that it crops up 
from time to time and with a sufficient frequency 
to make it quite plain that the press is far more 
easy and tolerant on the matter than it has any 
right to be. Obviously, letters is a vehicle which 
is handier than any other vehicle for the spread 
of evil thinking. An improper picture is improper 
on the face of it, and calls immediate attention to 
itself and immediate reproof from decent people. 
Such pictures cannot really exist publicly. An im- 
proper play has to get past the censor, and it has 
also to overcome the repugnance of persons who do 
not like openly to be assisting in wickedness. Both 
picture and play, too, have to be, in the nature of 
things, either decent, or frankly and palpably in- 
decent. But in a book you can have dubiety, and 
you can have patches of impropriety and indecency 
tucked away amid a mass of inoffensive and, it may 



270 Oscar Wilde and My elf 

be, even excellent writing. This is particularly the 
case with regard to novels and poetry, and nobody 
with any care for either literature or the public well- 
being can help but regret it. The only censorship 
which can do anything to stem the increasing tide 
of looseness and license in these regards is, obvi- 
ously, criticism. I maintain that the criticism of 
the day is — in a preponderating measure, con- 
sciously or unconsciously — in agreement with Wilde 
on these subjects, and the result is plain for all of 
us to see. I used to believe that art is more im- 
portant than conduct. This is a mistake which most 
of us are prone to make when we are young and 
dazzled with the beauty and colour of life. The 
vast mass of mankind, however, are not concerned 
with art as art at all, but merely with art in its 
relation to its personal effect upon themselves. The 
average reader, whether of prose or verse, has little 
or no conscious interest in the art of either. If he 
had, many of the moderns with enormous circula- 
tions would feel a very considerable draught, inas- 
much as they are not artists and do not pretend to 
be. In view of the general ability to read and the 
extraordinary cheapness of books, it has become 
more than ever important that literature should be 
kept free from viciousness, prurience and improper 
suggestion. If criticism fails in its duty in this 



Literature and Vice 271 

respect, the national intellect and the national 
morals will inevitably be debased, and the proper 
purposes of art utterly destroyed. It is the fashion 
to say that great authors do not write merely for 
youth and young misses at school, but it is neverthe- 
less a fact that it is upon the adolescent of both 
sexes that these authors have to depend, in the 
main, for a hearing and for reputation and income. 
In the case of Wilde, it is to youth particularly that 
he very largely appeals. Most persons of middle 
life know a great deal more about the facts of 
existence than would admit them to take Wilde for 
anything but a flippant and unbalanced writer. The 
wise perceive that there is no gingerbread beneath 
his gilt, and they know that even the gilt is not 
honest metal. His influence upon youth is un- 
doubted and obvious, but it is equally undoubted and 
obvious that his influence is a bad one, and the 
sooner we acknowledge the fact the better it will 
be for Art and Letters. 



CHAPTER XXIV 

CROSLAND AND "tHE FIRST STONE" 

TO be properly understood in this world is 
beyond human expectation. That my rela- 
tions with Wilde have been misunderstood 
this narrative bears witness. Pretty well every- 
thing I have done or said with respect to him has 
been misconstrued or misrepresented; and, of 
course, it was not a matter of surprise to me to find 
that when Crosland published "The First Stone'' 
some devotees took it for granted that I had sub- 
orned him to do it. Their rage knew no bounds. 
On the appearance of the book, half the editors in 
London were besieged with letters from adherents 
of Wilde — whose identity was and is entirely un- 
known to me — abusing Crosland and explaining 
that it was well known that I had instigated him to 
write the work, and paid for the publication. So 
far as I am aware, none of these letters was printed 
and, when the writers of them found that they could 
not get the publicity they required, they took to 
sending copies of them to Crosland and myself. 



Crosland and 'The First Stone'' 273 

Ultimately somebody went to the length of print- 
ing a pamphlet in which both of us were accused 
of all sorts of vileness. This pamphlet appeared 
without the name of its author and without the 
name or address of the printer and publisher. 
Those responsible for it lacked the courage of their 
opinions, but they had pluck enough to post it out 
under cover and to say that copies of it could be 
obtained at some address in Chelsea. I had en- 
quiries made at the address given and found that 
it consisted of a block of flats, but that there was 
nobody there who would admit any knowledge of 
the matter. The pamphlet was called "The Writ- 
ing on the Floor," but nobody who lived on any of 
the floors of these flats from the basement up- 
wards, would own to the slightest connection with 
it. I mention these facts not because I attach any 
importance to the pamphlet, but because they show 
to what extraordinary courses my enemies will have 
resort when their malice gets the better of them. 
They indicate, too, that there is no limit to the 
resources of these people. The difficulties of ob- 
taining a printer, whether in London or the prov- 
inces, for such statements as were contained in 'The 
Writing on the Floor'' must have been well-nigh 
insuperable. No printer who can read could, in 
ordinary circumstances, have been procured to pro- 



274 Oscar Wilde and Myself 

duce such a pamphlet, even without his imprimatur, 
on any terms whatever. He would know full well 
that the risks were too great. More crass and abom- 
inable criminal libels were never put into type. The 
thing could only have been printed either abroad 
or at a private press; and, from the character of 
the type and paper, I should say that the chances 
are that the printing was done at a private press in 
England. The type was new and the paper such 
as is readily obtainable in London. All this meant 
considerable cost, upon which the authors of the 
pamphlet could not hope to recoup themselves, in- 
asmuch as they gave it away and did not set a price 
upon it; besides which there was a cost of postage 
and clerical work. So that we had here not only 
malice and wicked propaganda, but malice and 
wicked propaganda which were willing to go to great 
expense and to run great risks for the expression of 
themselves. This business, and other similar busi- 
nesses which have come to my notice, tend to con- 
vince me that there are plenty of minor enthusiasts 
engaged in the canonisation of Wilde, and that they 
lack neither means nor energy, I use the phrase 
"minor enthusiast'' advisedly because I wish to 
make it clear that I do not suggest that any person 
named in this book was a party to these letters or 
anonymous scurrilities. 



Crosland and ''The First Stone" 275 

With regard to 'The First Stone" itself, I have 
no wish to apologise for it, and should not have the 
slightest objection to accepting the responsibility 
for it — if it were mine to accept. But it is not mine, 
nor did I suggest or advise it, or have hand or part 
in its production. What happened was this : When 
I obtained through my solicitors a copy of the un- 
published parts of ''De Profundis," duly authenti- 
cated by Messrs. Lewis & Lewis, I took it, without 
reading it, to Mr. Crosland. I did this of my own 
initiative and for my own reasons. Crosland began 
to read it in my presence. He had not read more 
than a page or two before he said : "I am going to 
read this manuscript to you, word for word, and 
I am going to put absolutely flat and straight ques- 
tions to you, even though they hurt or anger you." 
I said : ''You can read away, my dear chap, and ask 
me any questions you like." I sat there for four 
solid hours, face to face with the man who probably 
knows more about me and my life and my manner 
of living it than anybody else in the world, and I 
am free to say that he did not spare me. But it is 
necessary to remember that, up to this time, Cros- 
land had never had any other version of the history 
and my connection with Wilde than my own. When 
he first met me in 1903, over the publication of some 
of my sonnets, we had not talked together three 



276 Oscar Wilde and Myself 

minutes before he plumped me with some sharp 
questions in regard to myself and Wilde. I was 
able at once to give him straightforward and con- 
vincing answers and, in good times and bad, from 
that day to this, he has believed me, as, indeed, he 
could not help but believe me, and he has always 
and rightly acted on the assumption that he knew 
the truth. But I remembered those questions of 
his, and it was partly for this reason, namely, that 
I courted all the questions he could devise, that I 
went round to him with the unpublished ''De Pro- 
fundis." Here was new material of which neither 
he nor I had ever had the smallest inkling. I knew 
that it could not be friendly material, otherwise it 
would not have been put up by Ransome's solicitors, 
yet I placed it unreservedly in the hands of my closest 
friend, a critically minded person of whom it may be 
said, at least, that neither friendship nor any other 
consideration will hold or restrain him where mat- 
ters of principle are concerned. After reading the 
manuscript Crosland went to work of his own ac- 
cord and, within a very few days, "The First Stone" 
was written and printed. Whatever may be its 
merits or faults as a piece of writing, it is certainly 
of interest as exhibiting the effect on an honest mind 
of Wilde's stupid and ludicrous outburst. I am not 
concerned either to praise or blame the poem, but 



Crosland and *'The First Stone" 277 

it will last Wilde probably a good deal longer than 
the unpublished parts of ''De Profundis" will last 
me. I had intended to republish the whole poem 
in this book, but as it contains quotations taken 
direct from the Ujipublished portion of "De Pro- 
fundis," I have been reluctantly compelled to aban- 
don my intention. 



CHAPTER XXV 

A CHALLENGE TO MR. ROSS 

I DO not know what Mr. Robert Ross's legal 
rights as Wilde's literary executor were until 
the year 1906, when his position was officially 
confirmed. During the last years of his life Wilde 
certainly looked to me to do all that might be neces- 
sary to be done in regard to his literary affairs after 
his death. Ross knew this, and other people knew 
it. Both Wilde and I, however, had been accus- 
tomed to look upon him as a business man, and I 
quite admit that when he came to me after the 
funeral and asked me what should be done with 
Wilde's papers, I told him to act as he thought fit. 
The first occasion upon which Ross used the title 
of literary executor was in Paris after the funeral. 
Somebody in an English paper had suggested that 
Wilde had been buried without ceremony and that 
none of his friends had thought it worth while to 
attend the funeral. I considered that this was an 
improper statement, and a long telegram was writ- 
ten and sent to the paper in question, the Daily 

278 



A Challenge to Mr. Ross 279 

Express, with a view to its correction. The ques- 
tion arose as to whether I should sign it or whether 
somebody else should sign it, and in the end we 
decided that the signature should be Ross's. After 
Ross had put his name to the telegram he said to me : 
"It will carry more weight if I were to put 'Literary 
executor to Oscar Wilde' under my name." I saw 
no objection to this at the time, and Ross added 
the words, and the telegram was despatched so 
signed. So far as I am aware, that is the only man- 
date Ross ever had from anybody. I do not doubt 
that his position has been confirmed and made legal 
since by the Receiver of Wilde's estate and by 
Wilde's sons. Neither do I doubt that Ross has 
rendered valuable services to the estate and admin- 
istered it justly and well. I think that he has done 
many things which are scarcely in Wilde's interest, 
however, and of which Wilde would have disap- 
proved ; such, for example, as his publication of the 
version of the "Ballad of Reading Gaol," curtailed 
"for the benefit of reciters and their audiences," 
and his dedication of "Intentions" to a woman 
whom Wilde scarcely knew, in his own name rather 
than Wilde's. But these are minor matters, and 
there is no need to labour them. The challenge I 
have to issue to Mr. Ross has to do with the ques- 
tion of "De Profundis." 



280 Oscar Wilde and Myself 

It is admitted by all parties concerned that this 
manuscript was addressed to me. A portion of 
the work has already been published, under Mr. 
Ross's sanction. The other half he has presented 
to the nation through the British Museum. So that 
it is evident that Mr. Ross feels that the whole man- 
uscript should be preserved. Sufficient of the con- 
tents of the second or unpublished part has been 
made public in the Law Courts and in the press to 
make it quite obvious that the manuscript relates 
chiefly to me, and relates to me in a very bitter, 
malicious and libellous way. It is consequently a 
document in which at least two living persons are 
very seriously concerned. Neither Mr. Ross nor 
any other person dare print or publish the thing 
as it stands, because of its libellous character, and 
they know quite well that, apart from any action 
I might take, the Dowager Marchioness of Queens- 
berry would be absolutely sure to take action against 
them if the manuscript were published. Mr. Ross 
therefore stores this libel at the British Museum 
till 1960, when, in the course of human events, my 
mother will have passed away and I, too, shall be 
dead. At this happy juncture the discretion of the 
British Museum authorities is to come into play. 
As a matter of fact, however, the manuscript will 
be out of copyright by 1960 and, unless the British 



A Challenge to Mr. Ross 281 

Museum destroy it meanwhile — which, by the way, 
they would not be within their legal rights in doing 
— there is nothing to hinder publication, inasmuch 
as it is open knowledge that copies exist and are in 
other hands than those of the British Museum. 
Now I think it will be commonly admitted that a 
person who is attacked possesses de facto the right 
to reply ; furthermore, it is the duty of a person who 
knows that he has been accused, as I have been ac- 
cused, to defend and clear himself, if he can. There- 
fore it is that I conceive it to be my duty thoroughly 
to sift and examine the charges which Oscar Wilde 
has brought against me, and to rebut them and give 
proof that they are false and unsubstantial. It is 
impossible that this can be done completely and 
satisfactorily unless I have from Mr. Ross, who, 
rightly or wrongly, considers himself the legal 
owner of the copyright, permission to print very 
lengthy portions of the manuscript now in the hands 
of the British Museum. In view of the subtle way 
in which the manuscript is written, it would not be 
sufficient for my purpose to make extracts here and 
there and deal with them singly. The only proper 
method, in the circumstances, would be to print the 
unpublished ''De Profundis'' in extenso, with my 
running comment, either beneath it or on the oppo- 
site pages. Mr. Ross is acquainted with the whole 



282 Oscar Wilde and Myself 

contents of this manuscript, and he contends that 
he is the owner of the copyright. I challenge him 
to give his permission for the manuscript to be used 
in the manner I have indicated. My proposition is 
a perfectly fair and square one. I will publish the 
whole manuscript, word for word and line for line, 
without omitting or curtailing anything, and over it 
I will publish my reply, and the public at large shall 
be left to judge between Oscar Wilde and Lord 
Alfred Douglas. Mr. Ross's acquiescence in this 
proposal cannot hurt him in the least. Nobody has 
anything to gain out of the manuscript, inasmuch as 
Mr. Ross dare not publish it himself, or get any- 
body else to publish it, in my lifetime or the life- 
time of my mother. He knows that it is a libel on 
both of us, and the least he can do if he is a fair- 
minded man is to give me an opportunity of dealing 
openly and fully with the accusations involved. If 
he refuses to do this, I take it that the public will 
draw their own conclusions as to the truth or falsity 
of these accusations. 



[^  CHAPTER XXVI 

WILDE IN RUSSIA, FRANCE AND GERMANY 

A STOCK argument of Wilde's critical friends 
/\ has always been that, even if it can be 
JL. jL demonstrated that Wilde has been grossly 
overrated in England, the fact of his popularity in 
foreign parts proves that there is in him the literary 
stuff which goes to the making of immortals. This, 
of course, is not philosophically true, being, in fact, 
the merest fudge. Wilde's books, it is true, have 
been translated into various languages — but which 
books? Well, "Dorian Gray" and "Salome," for 
the most part, with "De Profundis" for a bad third, 
and the rest nowhere. What Wilde abroad really 
means is very prettily indicated by the following 
letter which was addressed to the editor of Every- 
man by one of Wilde's translators : — 

"Sir, 

"Please let me produce some figures to up- 
hold your correspondent's statement in your issue 
of June 6th as to Oscar Wilde's popularity in Russia. 

"I have had the honour of translating Wilde's 

283 



284 Oscar Wilde and Myself 

works into Russian and can state that his books 
were among the best-selling fiction in this country. 
Some of Oscar Wilde's masterpieces, such as The 
Picture of Dorian Gray/ 'De Profundis/ 'Salome/ 
published in popular editions at 10 kopecks (2>4d.) 
each have had a circulation (in the last four to five 
years) from eighty to one hundred thousand each, 
and are still selling briskly. Wilde's comedies are 
constantly on the repertory of the Moscow and St. 
Petersburg Imperial State Theatres, not counting 
the innumerable provincial stages. 

''I can assure you that you will not find one edu- 
cated person in Russia who has not read Wilde's 
works. I have received in the last seven to eight 
years hundreds of letters from quite unknown 
people all over Russia, with the expression of the 
strongest and sincerest admiration for one of 'the 
greatest writers of the world.' 

''I must frankly acknowledge that nearly all the 
letters of my correspondents, ranking from all 
classes of Russian life, contain many bitter com- 
ments on the treatment Wilde received in the hands 
of his countrymen. 

"I am, Sir, etc., 
"Michael Lykiardopulos, 
"Secretary of the 

"Moscow." " 'Moscow Art Theatre.' 



In Russia, France, and Germany 285 

This letter gives a curious insight into the whole 
business. Of course, ''Dorian Gray" and ''Salome'' 
at twopence-halfpenny in England would sell like 
wildfire, just as a pirated '"De Profundis'' was sold 
a little while ago at a penny on the street corners. 
Nobody professed that this pirated "De Profundis'' 
was being sold because of its literary value : it was 
sold and offered for sale in the gutter as "the con- 
fession of Oscar Wilde," and it was bought in just 
the same way that the alleged confession of any 
other criminal would be bought. So that these 
books at ten kopecks in Russia point their own 
moral. 

I do not know how cheaply or how dearly Wilde 
is sold in Paris and Berlin. But I do know that the 
vogue he has in both cities is largely based on his 
iniquities, and that this fact is equally deplored by 
right-thinking Frenchmen and right-thinking Ger- 
mans. In the scandals which of late years have 
disgraced Berlin, the Wilde factor has been only too 
evident. The scandals to which I refer have oc- 
curred in so-called literary and artistic circles ; and 
wherever you have such scandals in such circles 
there you are bound always to find that Oscar Wilde 
sits enthroned. It is a deplorable thing, doubtless, 
but what is one to expect in the face of "Dorian 
Gray" ? The bad influence of Wilde in both France 



286 Oscar Wilde and Myself 

and Germany has been noted and deprecated by 
more than one eminent writer, and the main force 
of criticism in both countries is in arms against it. 
In Russia his admirers belong chiefly to the anar- 
chistic and revolutionary sections of the community, 
who, being in a large measure decadents and crim- 
inals themselves, have a natural sympathy with the 
work of a decadent criminal. In Russia they say 
Wilde must be a great man because he went to 
prison and is universally loved and admired by the 
English. In England we are told that Wilde's 
greatness cannot be disputed, inasmuch as he is 
loved and admired in Russia — at 10 kopecks a time. 
Mr. Ransome is very amusing on Wilde's foreign 
successes. He says that we ''cannot afford to 
neglect the opinion of critical Germany,'' which, in 
point of fact, is just the opinion we can afford to 
neglect; and he quotes Mr. Ross as follows: "In 
1901, within a year of the author's death, it 
("Salome") was produced in Berlin; from that 
moment it has held the European stage. It has 
run for a longer consecutive period in Germany 
than any play by any Englishman, not excepting 
Shakespeare. Its popularity has extended to all 
countries where it is not prohibited. It is per- 
formed throughout Europe, Asia and America. It 
is played even in Yiddish." One would imagine 



In Russia, France, and Germany 287 

that all Europe, Asia and America had rushed in 
a body to see this compelling drama. The facts 
are that, while it may have been staged at theatres 
of standing in Berlin and other cities, and may 
have had a long run in Berlin, its vogue elsewhere 
is not associated with either distinguished theatres 
or the best actors, having been, in fact, a rather 
hole-and-corner affair, and, whatever may have hap- 
pened years ago, one may travel the globe now- 
adays without finding that Wilde comes anywhere 
near holding the stage in a substantial or perennial 
way. Wilde, of course, has been pushed and 
boomed for all he is worth and for a good deal more 
than he is worth. The result is that he has come 
into a sort of artificial kingdom of his own, on the 
Continent and in America just as in England. But 
I maintain that it is a kingdom based on rottenness ; 
that it is an utterly insignificant kingdom in so far 
as it is taken to mean merit or worthiness in Wilde, 
and that, by its very nature, it is bound to fall and 
be forgotten. Wilde's supporters would appear to 
be very conscious of this fact, and that is perhaps 
why some of them fall into such fits of rage if any- 
body ventures to suggest that their idol is not en- 
tirely gold. There are no plays of Wilde's and no 
books of Wilde's which can last on their literary 
merits. His only chance is that he suffered im- 



288 Oscar Wilde and Myself 

prisonment and he wrote certain improprieties. 
These have been put on a different basis for an en- 
during literary reputation, even in Asia or among 
the Jews. 



CHAPTER XXVII 

THE SMALLER FRY 

I SUPPOSE that the number of little poets, 
little fictionists, and, above all, little critics, 
who imagine that they owe themselves to Wilde 
is infinite. His peculiar form of humour, which 
seemed to have genius behind it and so dazzled 
everybody in Wilde's own time, was soon discovered 
to be wonderfully easy of imitation, and really to 
require very little brains in its production. The 
consequence has been that everybody who consid- 
ered himself anybody took up with it, as it were; 
and it has become so common that it is no longer 
taken for humour at all. All our dullest young men 
who happen to be engaged or interested in a branch 
of the arts have talked, thought and written Wilde 
for years past. Some middle-aged and elderly gen- 
tlemen who began when Wilde was at his zenith are 
still at it, and apparently nothing will stop them ; 
which means, of course, that humour in England 
has altogether lost both its point and its usefulness. 
The humour of the day has a dull cruelty about 

289 



290 Oscar Wilde and Myself 

it which it formerly lacked. Its object might almost 
be, not to make people laugh, but to make them cry. 
The fiercer and more heartless it is, the better it is 
supposed to be appreciated. Furthermore, instead 
of being kept in its proper place in the scheme of 
things, it has been allowed to run riot whenever 
its authors choose to let it loose. To be comic in 
a bitter and insincere way seems to be the ambition 
of most of the eminent people one can nowadays 
come across. We have comic judges and comic 
counsel who manage to keep the King's Courts in 
ripples of merriment. We have even a comic magis- 
trate or two. In Parliament the mordant humour- 
ist and the man who can say sharp things are the 
only ones to be listened to; sarcastic bishops and 
witty clerics abound. And as for the gentlemen of 
the press, they are all bent on the leer, at whatever 
cost. If you look closely into these professed or un- 
professed fun-makers, you are bound to perceive 
that the majority of them are little Oscar Wildes 
to a man. They look on life with a confirmed squint 
and they cannot see that there is anything human 
about which it is not desirable that they should 
make jokes. Only a little while back we had the 
spectacle of an English judge indulging his fancy 
in Wildeisms in the course of a trial for murder. 
In itself, his Lordship's epigram or paradox, or 



The Smaller Fry 291 

whatever you like to call it, would help or hurt no- 
body ; but the fact that it was forthcoming in such 
circumstances indicates pretty plainly the pass to 
which we have come. 

Wilde's answer to everything was by quip or fleer, 
or a plain perversion of the truth. He had no 
serious views or intentions about anything, and he 
considered that the art of life lay in flippancy. 
People who read him and make a gospel of him can 
scarcely be expected not to imitate him, and imitate 
him they certainly do; so that nowadays we have 
hundreds of little Wildes where formerly there was 
only one Wilde — and a not over big one at that. 
They swarm and spread themselves over everything 
that is decent, and they parrot Wilde at everybody 
who comes near them. They have seen it in 'Tn- 
tentions" that there is no sin save stupidity, and 
tha\: all art is immoral, and they imagine that the 
world can be run on these two remarkably shallow 
and unreliable axioms. 

I am quite free to admit that in a literary sense 
the world does present the appearance of being so 
run. The preponderating weight of contemporary 
authorship and criticism would indeed seem to be 
on the Wilde side. This, of course, is unthinkably 
pitiable, but we cannot get beyond the fact. The 
reason is not far to seek, and it will be found to 



292 Oscar Wilde and Myself 

lie in the shallowness which always characterises 
the popular view of large questions. Wilde began 
by asserting that the only sin was stupidity, yet 
he ended with the assertion that the supreme vice 
is shallowness. I do not say that shallowness is by 
any means the supreme vice ; there can be no doubt, 
however, that it is the very commonest vice among 
people who imagine themselves to be thinkers. It 
is, in consequence of this very circumstance, that 
to attack Wilde nowadays is to be howled down, just 
as to have praised him eighteen years ago was to be 
execrated. The shallowness of 1895 could not see 
an inch below the surface of Wilde's glaring vicious- 
ness. It went the length of taking his name off his 
own plays and relegating him to the position of a 
man who was well-nigh without literary existence. 
The shallowness of 1914 is unable to look beneath 
the success, enormous sales, enormous popularity, 
and what not, which have resulted from the Wilde 
boom, and it is quite incapable of recognising or 
appreciating the dangers which lie beneath it. We 
are asked by tearful counsel and writers of pathetic 
nonsense for the penny weeklies to forget Wilde's 
vices. For my own part, I certainly do not wish 
to revive them or insist upon them. But I am not 
prepared to forget them unless his apologists cease 
to discuss them. 



The Smaller Fry 293 

Nobody will question that what has been termed 
the revulsion of feeling in Wilde's favour was 
largely brought about by the publication of *'De 
Profundis." This book, which, as I have shown, 
does not in the least accurately represent Wilde's 
feelings, owes its success in no small measure to the 
wide publicity which w^s given to the statements 
that it had been written in prison, and that it is a 
sort of repentant confession and authentic dying 
speech of its author. As we have seen, and as will 
become still more apparent when the unpublished 
''De Profundis" sees the light, nothing can be fur- 
ther from the truth. The small fry may go on ad- 
miring Wilde, and they may go on pointing to "De 
Profundis" as a work of a sainted martyr — the 
swan-song of a contrite, broken and bleeding heart, 
and so on, as long as they please. But they will 
never get away from the hard facts of the case, 
which are quite the reverse of what has been gen- 
erally assumed and supposed. 



CHAPTER XXVIII 

TO BE DONE WITH IT ALL 

WHEN Wilde had completed the "De Pro- 
fundis" manuscript, he is understood to 
have written to Ross to say that he had 
rid his bosom of much perilous stuflf. I will do him 
the justice to agree that he got into the "De Pro- 
fundis" manuscript as a whole, more real Wilde 
than ever he put into any other piece of work. 
Before, he had given us, as far as in him lay, Wilde 
the artist with frequent glimpses of Wilde the 
shameful liver and vicious thinker. But in the com- 
plete ''De Profundis" he gives us Wilde the man. 
The bottom of his vicious and halting soul is laid 
bare for us in this extraordinary work. That he 
had it in him to give himself utterly and entirely 
away as he did is incomprehensible, and can only 
be set down to the fact that the reticence which 
had previously been his safeguard and saviour was 
entirely destroyed by his rage on perceiving that the 
life he had succeeded in living would never again 
be possible to him. 

294 



To Be Done with It All 295 

My own task is finished here and now. I have 
taken what is practically Wilde's own picture of 
himself and unveiled it. Before he went to prison 
he had exposed to the public gaze a picture of him- 
self which was all lights and rose and purple. To 
this picture his friends have been most faithful. 
Of their own initiative they decked it out with 
supererogatory daubs of pretty and bewitching 
colour ; and they set it round with a beautiful gold 
frame, surmounted with a crown of gilded bays and 
something which is intended for a halo. Of the 
shadows and dubious blacks and browns which 
Wilde himself prepared by his life and by his lucu- 
brations in gaol they have been anxious to take no 
notice. They were only brought out of their 
seclusion as weapons wherewith I might be de- 
feated. The pot of blackness was brought into a 
Court of Justice and there emptied before the gaze 
of all beholders, as was supposed, for my upsetting. 
Then the mess was all scraped up, as best it could 
be, and hurried back to the British Museum; and, 
honour being now satisfied and all being over, every- 
body, it was hoped, would speedily forget the little 
black pot. But not so: it will never be forgotten 
and must always be remembered by anybody who 
wishes to look honestly at the features of Wilde. 

So far as I am concerned, I have drawn my own 



296 Oscar Wilde and Myself 

picture from the man as I knew him, and from his 
writings, which are readily accessible and can be 
pursued by all who care to take the trouble. If I 
had been disposed to write the present book in the 
vein of ''De Profundis," published or unpublished, 
it would not have been difficult, from a literary point 
of view, for me to do so. I could have embellished 
my pages with tears and regrets and moral reflec- 
tions, not to say with quotations from the classics 
and Holy Scripture, just as readily and at just as 
great length as Wilde has done. Surely if any man 
has had cause for tears and bitter regrets, I have 
had cause. All my life, from twenty years of age 
up, has been overshadowed and filled with scandal 
and grief through my association with this man, 
Oscar Wilde. I am not going to shed public or 
private tears about it, and I am not going to waste 
my breath in vain regrets. I have absolutely an 
easy conscience as regards my treatment of Wilde, 
both before and since his death. If I have hurt 
anybody at all it has been myself and my family, 
and I have done this only through misplaced loyalty 
to my friend and a too high regard for chivalry. 
I now say all that I have had to say about Wilde, 
whether with respect to my personal relationship 
to him or my mature view of his complete writings. 
It will be noted that, just as I have refrained from 



To Be Done with It All 297 

weeping and moralising, I have equally refrained 
from details of petty quarrels and misunderstand- 
ings. I have not accused him of gobbling my food 
and spilling my wine and devouring my substance ; 
I have not charged him, as I easily might, with 
corrupting my intellect and assisting me in the care- 
less waste of some of the best years of my life. I 
have never said, as he says of me, that I became a 
child in his hands and that we never met "except in 
the gutter,'' and never conversed except about 
''loathsome things.'' I hold that a man's acts are 
his own affairs, even if they lead to his ruin 
and disgrace. The shifting of responsibility is no 
work for me or any other person of sense. I accept 
full responsibility for everything I have done or 
said in regard to this affair. For my own indis- 
cretions and carelessness I could not honestly blame 
anybody. I have been punished for them and shall 
doubtless go on being punished for them ; but there 
they are, and all the water in the sea will not wash 
them out. This book is not an apology for me, 
neither is it a work undertaken on the tu quoque or 
tit-for-tat principle against Wilde. I am of opinion 
that, in the circumstances, there is no man living 
who can put Oscar Wilde into his true relation to 
the life and literature of his time more accurately 
than myself. I have always known this — though, at 



298 Oscar Wilde and Myself 

the same time, I have hitherto refrained from put- 
ting my pen to paper. My enemies have compelled 
me to defend myself, and if, in the course of that 
defence, I have had to tear away some of the un- 
deserved laurels which have been heaped upon his 
brow and dissipated some of the undeserved incense 
which has been offered up at his shrine, I have done 
him no wrong, and I feel that I may conceivably 
have made a slight contribution to the literary and 
general good. 

It seems to me a great deal more than probable 
that the present volume will rouse a considerable 
deal of what is called controversy. The right of 
criticism is everybody's right, and I shall not hope 
to be spared criticism or, for that matter, even con- 
tradiction. I shall only beg that those reviewers 
whose duty and business it will be to deal with this 
book may remember that I am entitled to exactly 
as much justice in this world as Wilde and Wilde's 
friends. The forces against me are undoubtedly 
numerous and powerful. On the other hand, it is 
very certain that I shall not run away from them. 



Index 



Adey, Mr. More, 130 

Alexander, Sir G., 96 

"Androcles and the Lion, True 
Story of," 217 

Arnold, Matthew, 12; imitations 
of, 200 

Art and Morality — Wilde's dic- 
tum, 277, 282, 305 

Astbury, Mr. Justice, 84, 85 



B 



"Ballad of Perkin Warbeck," 

125 

"Ballad of Reading Gaol," 122, 
124, 198, 200, 207 
Accepted opinions, deference 

to, 143, 210, 212 
Model, 210 
Publication, 131, 144 
Refused by a New York 

paper, 143 
Ross's, Mr., curtailed ver- 
sion, 293 
Wilde's best work, 140, 142, 
209, 212 
"Ballad of St. Vitus," 125 
Barrie, Sir J. M., 222 
Beardsley, Aubrey, 34, 60, 197 
Beerbohm, Mr. Max, 57 
Berneval, Wilde at, 108, 118, 119, 
121, 123 
Correspondence with Author, 

119 
Money resources, 108, 118, 
120, 129, 134, 140 
Bierce, Ambrose, 217 
Blunt, Mr. Wilfrid, 64 
Bouche, M. du, dentist, 138 



British Museum authorities and 
the unpublished portions of 
"De Profundis," 8, 84, 151, 
233-234, 280 

Browning, 62, 216, 242 

Browning, Mrs., 198 

"Burden of Itys," 200, 207 

Burne-Jones, 62 

Bussell, Dr., 14 



Cab-driving story, 22 
Cairns, late Lord, 64 
Campbell, Mr., k.c, 126, 233 
"Canterville Ghost," 220 
Carson, Sir Edward, 94 
"Charmides," 200 
Chesterton, Mr. G., 217 
"City of the Soul," 16, 171 
Clarke, Sir Edward — 

Queensberry proceedings, 

withdrawal from, 91, 94 
Subsequent trials, defence of 
Wilde, 95, 99 
Crabbet Club, 64-67 
Crewe, Lord, 64 
Crosland, Mr. T. W. H., 186 
Cross-examination of Author 
on unpublished part of 
"De Profundis," 234, 275 
"First Stone," 272 
Outlook article on Ransome 
trial, 156 
Curzon, Lord, 64 
Cust, Mr. Harry, 64 



Daily ^ Chronicle, review of 

"Dorian Gray," 264 
Dante, 242 



299 



300 



Index 



Darling, Mr. Justice, 7, 8, 9, 51, 
107, 181, 214, 238 
Naples, reputation of, 126 
Tribute to Author's literary 

talent, 274 
"De Profundis," 8, 25, 83 

Copy alleged to have been in 

Author's possession, 7, 148 
Foreign reputation, 283 
Letter addressed to Author- 
no indication in published 

portion, 150, 232 
Origin of — Anger at Author's 

apparent desertion, 112, 

1 1 5-1 16, 121 
Preface, 146 
Property in, 8, 236 
Publication — 

Propriety question, 153 

Wilde's instructions to Mr. 
Ross, 148-149 

Wilde's intentions, alterna- 
tive possibilities, 151-152 
Revulsion of feehng in 

Wilde's favour resulting, 

293 
Sherard, Mr., on, 114-115 
Unpublished portions — At- 
tacks on Author, 8, 25, 83^ 
British Museum authori- 
ties, MS. given to, not to 
be published till i960, 8, 
151, 233, 280 

Injustice to Author, 
Challenge to Mr. Ross, 
157, 281-282, 295 
Charges at Ransome trial, 

158 et seq. 
Copies in existence, 281 
Cross-examination of Au- 
thor by Mr. Crosland, 

233, 275 

Injunction precluding Au- 
thor from quoting, 83, 
158 

Secrecy and treachery, 25, 
115, 146, 149. 165. 249 

Sole attempt at confession, 

Wilde's picture of himself, 

294-295 
Wilde's reputation, probable 
effect on, 237, 239 



''Dead Poet," sonnet, 27 
"Disciple," 17 
"Dorian Gray," 14, 45 

Character modelled on Au- 
thor, allegation, 254 
Daily Chronicle article, 264 
Foreign reputation, 283 
Poisonous nature, 257, 265 

Wilde's admission, 229, 264 
Preface, 45 
Queensberry proceedings, use 

in, 94 
Ransome, Mr., on, 243 
St. James's Gazette review, 
258 
Douglas, Lady Alfred, 167, 195 
Douglas, Lord Alfred — 
Exploits at Winchester, 11 
Intimacy with Wilde — Scan- 
dal resulting, etc., 28, 
72-73, 189, 193, et seq. 
Persecution of Author re- 
sulting. See sub-heading 
Scapegoat 
Vicious tendencies in 
Wilde, no evidence of, 74 
Letters to Wilde, use at Ran- 
some trial, etc., 76, 99, 106, 
166, 167, 251, 252 
Literary work— ^ 
Academy editorship, 26, 

186, 19s, 256 
Ballad form, study of, 

124-125 
DarHng's, Mr. Justice, trib- 
ute, 254 
Oxford, 18 
Wilde's debt to Author, 

124-125 
For particular poems, etc., 
see their names 
Loyalty, defence of Wilde 
after his conviction, etc., 
26, 27, 32, 296 
Labouchere, letters to, 181- 

182 
Letters to newspapers, etc., 

123, 124, 199-201 
Scientific and medical 
grounds of defence, 182 
Refer also to titles Naples, 
Paris, Trials, etc. 
Marriage, 167, 195 



Ind 



ex 



301 



Douglas, Lord Alfred (cont.) 
Money relations with Wilde, 
allegations of expense 
caused to Wilde, etc., 69, 
70, 82 
Algiers, 161-165 
Goring, 160-161 
Loans from Author, 71 
Solitary instance of re- 
payment, 162 
Monte Carlo, 87 
Refer also to titles Naples, 
Paris, and Trials 
Oxford career, 11 
Collisions with authorities, 

etc., 20-23 
Warkworth, Lord, and the 
Newdigate, 18-19 
Partnership in vice, corrupt- 
ing Wilde, charges of, 106, 
116, 169 
Scapegoat— Persecution in 
connection with Wilde af- 
fair, 4-5, 87, 88, 93, 106, 107, 
194, 295-296 
Blackmailing attempts, 5, 

194, 195 
Legal proceedings, collapse 

of calumniators, 5, 196 
Letters to Lady Alfred 

Douglas, 195 
Loyalty impugned, slanders 
reaching Wilde, etc., 88, 
194 
Pamphlet, "The Writing on 

the Floor," 273 
Paris. 109-110 
Policy in regard to, 5, 247 
Posterity, appeal to, 226-227 
Douglas, Lord, of Hawick, loi 
Dowson, late Ernest, 57, 199 
Drumlanrig, Viscount, 58 
"Duchess of Padua," 210 



Encombe, late Viscount, 11, 14 



"First Stone," 274 

Foote, Mr., and the Revue 

Blanche article, 187 
Fortnightly, Wilde's essays in, 

221 



France — 

Vice in — A comparison and 

an excuse, 245 
Wilde faction in, 246, 285, 286 
Freethinker and the Revue 
Blanche article, 187 



"Garden of Eros," 207^ 
Germany, Wilde cult in — Ber- 
lin scandals, etc., 285, 286 
Giles, Miss Althea — Drawings 
for "The Harlot's House," 
145 

H 

"Happy Prince," 219 
Harcourt, Mr. "Lulu," 64 
"Harlot's House," 145 
Harris, Mr. Frank, 57, 137, 141, 

217, 221 
Headlam, Rev. Stewart, loi 
Hood, imitations of, 205 
Hope, Mr. Adrian, 138 
Houghton, Lord, 64 
"House of Judgment," 17 
"House of Pomegranates," 219 
Howard, Hubert, 65 
"Humanitad," 200, 207 
Humieres, Vicomte d', 64 
Humor of To-day— Wilde's in- 
fluence, 289-290 
Humphreys, Mr., 93 



"Ideal Husband," 124, 158, 223 
"Importance of being Earnest," 

50, 124, 221, 22s 
Imprisonment. See Prison 

Period 
Ingleby, Mr. — Biography of 

Wilde, 248 
"Intentions," 14, 214-215 

Dedication by Mr. Ross, 279 
Poisonous nature, 229 
Irving, Henry, Wilde's sonnets 

to, 44 



Jackson, Holbrooke, 150 
Johnson, Lionel, 14, 17 



302 



Index 



Keats, imitations of, 200, 204, 
207, 242 

L 

"La Mer," 200, 202 

"La Sainte Courtisane," 2ig 

Labouchere, Henry, Author's 
letters to, etc., 180-183 

"Lady Windermere's Fan," 14, 
49, 221, 223 

Le Gallienne, 199 

Leveson-Gower, George, 64 

Lewis and Lewis, Messrs., 232 

Lewis, George, on the Queens- 
berry proceedings, 93 

Lippincott's Magazine — Publica- 
tion of "Dorian Gray," 254, 
258 

Literature — EflFect of Wilde's 
works and the Wilde cult, 153, 
229, 266 et seq., 271, 292 

"Lord Arthur Saville's Crime," 
219, 220 

Lykiardopulos, Michael — Wilde 
in Russia, 283-284 

Lytton, Robert, Earl of, 63 

M 

Magdalen College, Oxford, 23 

Marlowe — Wilde's piracies, 242 

Matthews, Sir Charles — With- 
drawal from Queensberry pro- 
ceedings, defence of Wilde in 
subsequent trials, 95, 99 

Meredith, 44, 62, 216 

Methuen, Messrs., and "Dorian 
Gray," 244, 256 

Meynell, Mrs., 198 

Milton-Wilde amalgamation, 
191 -192, 200, 205, 242 

"Model Millionaire," 220 

Montgomery, Hon. Mrs. Alfred, 
126 

Montgomery, Mr. Alfred, 59, 68 

Morris, William, 49 

N 

Napier, Mr. Mark, 64 
Naples period, 6y 

Allegations by Sherard. 107, 
108 



Naples period (continued) 

Author's books sold or lost 

by Wilde, 66 
Irreproachable and industri- 
ous life, 122, 125 
Money question — 
All expenses borne by 

Author, 119, 121, 124 
Desertion on mercenary 
grounds alleged, 129-130 
Provision made for Wilde 
after Author's departure, 
128-129 
Reputation of the city, social 
standing of Author, etc., 
126 
Scandal arising — Efforts of 
relatives, etc., to effect a 
separation, 127 — Success, 
128 
"New Helen," 207 
Newdigate Prize and Lord 
Warkworth, 18 



Outlook article on unpublished 
portions of "De Profundis," 
155-156 

Oxford Magazine, Author's 
poem in, 16 



"Panthea,'' 200, 207 
Paris Period — 

Drink, vicious habits and dis- 
ease, 134-137 

Earnings, 131 

Help accepted from Author, 
loans of money, etc., 130, 
131, 132 

Last days, privations — Beg- 
ging letters, etc., 134, 137 

News of illness, 137 — Death, 

Funeral expenses, etc., paid 
by Author, 138 
Pater, Walter, 13, 44 
"Pentagram," 11 
Percy, Lord, and the Newdigate, 

18 
"Picture of Dorian Gray." See 
"Dorian Gray'* 



Index 



303 



Pinero, Sir A., Wilde's admira- 
tion of, 221 
Pope, Wilde's view of, 199 
"Presence of mind," fable, 218 
Prison Period, 7 

Author's visits, correspon- 
dence, etc., refused through 
Ross, III, 112 
Desertion by Author, appear- 
ance of, due to Ross- 
Wilde's anger resulting in 
"De Profundis," 112, 115- 
116, 121 
Effect on spirit and moral 

fibre, 162 et seq. 
Interview on, American jour- 
nalist's offer, 140, 143 
Sherard's account, 113-115 
Public morals — Effect of Wilde's 
works and Wilde cult, 227-229, 
263, 292 

Q 

Queensberry, Dowager Mar- 
chioness of, 130 
*'De Profundis" libels, 160, 

234, 280 
Dislike of Wilde, 13 
Queensberry, late Marquis of — 
Libel action against — 
Action leading to Wilde pro- 
ceedings, 75, 81, 85 
Collapse — Reception of news 
by Wilde, varying accounts, 
103-104 
Instigation by Author, al- 
leged — Funds supplied, etc., 
75-76, 85, 86, 102 
Nature of Lord Queens- 
berry's accusation, 95 
Ross's, Mr., responsibility, 93 
Reconciliation with Author, 

.76 
Wife, divorce from, 75 
Queensberry, present Marquis 
of, lOI 

R 
Ransome, Mr. Arthur — 
"Critical Study" — Aspersions 
on Author and resulting 
libel action, 6, 8, 53, 57, 69, 
82, 87, 116, 129, 130, 132, 
240, 250 



Ransome, Mr. Arthur, "Critical 
Study," etc. (continued) 

Author's letters to Wilde, use 
of, 166, 167 et seq., 251 

Author's litigation difficulties 
at time of trial, 167 

"De Profundis," unpublished 
portions, use of, 83, 237- 
239, 251 
Outlook comments, 155-156 

Labouchere letters produced, 
181, 251 

Passages complained of with- 
drawn, 107-108, 240, 253 

Revue Blanche article, 187 

Verdict, reasons for not ap- 
pealing, 252 

Wilde's reputation, effect on, 

253 
"De Profundis," 153 
Wilde's poetry, views on, 199- 

200 
Wilde's vices, views on, 197 
"Ravenna," 241 
Reading, imprisonment at. See 

Prison Period 
Regnier, M. Henri de, 64 
Reid, Sir Robert, 92 
Revue Blanche article, 185-187 
Ross, Mr. Robert, 56, 6g 

"De Profundis," editing of, 
etc., 8, 69, 98, 116, 118, 119, 
138 
Author's letter, failure to re- 
ply to, 152 
Preface, 146 

Unpublished parts presented 
to British Museum and_ in- 
junction obtained against 
Author, 8, 83 
"Harlot's House," publication 

stopped, 145 
Imprisonment Period, treach- 
erous action during, iii ^ 
Legal representative and ^ lit- 
erary executor of Wilde, 
139, 278, 279 
Ransome's book, biographical 

details supplied for, 53 
Ransome trial, co-operation 
in, 251 
Ruskin, 62 
Russell, Messrs., 251 



304 



Index 



Russia, Wilde's reputation in, 
283-285, 286 

S 
St. James's Ga:;ette — Review of 
^^ "Dorian Gray," 258 
"Salome," 64 — Foreign reputa- 
tion, 283, 286 
Shakespeare, Wilde on, 210, 216 
Shaw, Mr. G. B., 34, 60, 224, 225 
Sherard, Mr. Robert Harbor- 
ough, 87, 112, IIS, 120 
Arrest of Wilde, contradic- 
tory accounts, 103-104 
Biographies of Wilde, 248 
Mercure de France article, no 
Naples Period, allegations 

against Author, 107 
Prison life of Wilde, 113-115 
"Sphinx" rhymes, assistance 

with, 159 
Wilde's vices, views on, 182- 
183 
Smith, Mr. F. E., 228, 254 
Smithers, Leonard, 131, 144 
"Soul of Man under Socialism," 

61 
"Sphinx," 140, 198, 200, 207 
Poisonous nature, 229 
Ransome, Mr., on, 243 
Rhymes supplied by Mr. 

Sherard, 159 
Tennysonian metre, 201, 202, 

204 
Time taken to complete, 159 
"Sphinx without a Secret," 220 
"Spirit Lamp," 16-17 
Swinburne, 17, 20, 34, 44, 62 

Wilde on, 209 
Symonds, J. A., 12, 17 
Symons, Arthur, 34, 199 

T 

Tennyson, 18, 44, 6^ 

Wilde's imitations of, 200, 
201, 202, 203, 204 
Terry, Miss Ellen, Wilde's Son- 
nets to, 44 
Trials of Wilde- 
First trial — 
Arrest of Wilde, 92— Letter 
to Author, reproduction 
precluded by injunction, 
93 



Trials of Wilde— First trial 

{continued) 

Bail, efforts to arrange, 96 

Desertion by Author alleged 

— Facts in contradiction, 

96-99, 180— Reasons for 

leaving England, 100, 109 

Desertion by friends and 

wife, 91, 96 
Result, 100 

Truth of charges admitted, 
99 
Second trial decided on, 100 
Bail, admission to — Sureties, 

lOI 

Reasons for remaining to 
face trial— Misconception 
of position, 101-103 
Verdict and sentence, 104 — 
Justice of, Wilde's state- 
ment according to Sher- 
ard, 104 
Truth, 179 
Turner, Mr. Reggie, 57, 118, 120 

W 

Waller, Sir Lewis, 96 

Ward, Lock & Co., Messrs., 258 

Warkworth, Lord, and the New- 

digate, 18 
Warren, Mr., President of Mag- 
dalen, 12 
Author's poetry, opinion of, 

16 
Opinion of Wilde, 13, 30 
Webb, Mr. Godfrey, 64, 66 
Webster's "Duchess of Malfi," 

Wilde on, 210 
"Whispers," 159 
Whistler- 
Cribs from, 44, 49 
Quarrel with Wilde, 45 
Wilcox, Miss Ella Wheeler, 198 
Wilde, Lady, Z3 
Wilde, Mrs., 74, 112 

Abandonment of Wilde at 

time of trial, 96 
Objections to intimacy with 

Author, 74, 87 
Separation from Wilde after 
his release — Charge against 
Author, 120 



Index 



305 



Wilde, Oscar Fingall O'Flaher- 
tie Wills- 
Author, intimacy with, money 
relations, etc. See Douglas, 
Lord Alfred, also Naples, 
Paris, etc. 
Conversation, 14-15, 20, 29 
Crabbet Club, reception as 

member, 64-65 
Death, 137-138 
Drink as inspiration, etc., 38, 

136 
Expensive tastes, 71 
Gourmet and trencherman, 

57, 69, 72-73, 136 
Humor, 289 
Imprisonment at Reading. 

See Prison Period 
''King of Life" and "Lord of 

Language," 42 
Life after imprisonment. See 
titles Berneval, Naples and 
Paris 
Literary work — 

Contemporary art, attitude 

towards, 44-45 
Credo from preface to 
"Dorian Gray," 46 et seq. 
Current opinion, exaggera- 
tion of Wilde's import- 
ance, 26, 42, 51, 213, 215, 
226-228, 231 
Debt to Author, 124, 224 
Degradation of language, 

51 
Evil intention and influ- 
ence — Effect of Wilde's 
"teaching" and the 
Wilde myth, 26, 44, 229, 
246, 257 ^ 
Intensification of person- 
ality, etc., due to vice — 
Mr. Ransome's state- 
ment, 116-117, 244 — 
Excuse for vice, 245 
Foreign reputation, 283,287 
Genius, question of, 3, 247 
Hindrance by Author al- 
leged, 124, 158, 176 
Indifference of editors and 
publishers after Wilde's 
release, 141, 142 



Wilde, Oscar, Literary work 
(continued) 

Literary remains, 139 
Methods of work, 159 
Paris period, sums earned 

in, 131 
Plagiarisms and imitations, 
191, 200 et seq. — Mr. Ran- 
some's admissions, 241- 
242 
Spirit Lamp, contributions 

to, 17 
Wilde's self-knowledge, 50, 

248 
See also sub-headings 
Plays, Poems, Prose, and 
Stories, and for particu- 
lar works see their names 
Oxford and Magdalen, 11, 12 
Plays- 
Exaggerated current esti- 
mate, 222-223 
Pinero, Sir A., as model, 

222 
Wilde's opinion of, 220 
Poems — 

Biographers, claims of, 

199-200 
Reception, 198, 220 
Ross, Mr. — Preface to 
selected poems, 198 — 
Titles bestowed by, 205 
Self-knowledge, 199, 220 
Sonnets, 205, 206 
Technical defects, 205, 

209 
Theory of poetry, 197, 209 
Prose works — Wilde as su- 
preme artist, 213 
Ransome, Mr., on, 243 
Reception of, 221 
Style, 217 

Wilde's own opinion, 214 

Queensberry Proceedings. 

See Queensberry, late 

Marquis of 

Scholarshfp, 15 

Shallowness and indolence, 

49-50, 292 
Social standing and fash- 
ion, claims to, 34 et seq., 
56 et seq. 



306 



Index 



Wilde, Oscar (continued) 
Socialism, 6i 

Stories — Fables, etc., 217, 219 
Models and Imitations, 220 
Unpublished examples, 218 
Trials. See that title 
Vanity in regard to looks, 
clothes, etc., 33 et seq., 58 
—Voire Papa story, 188- 
189 
Wilde, William, 53 
Wills, Mr. Justice, 180 



"Woman of No Importance," 71, 

123 
Woman's World,Wi\At's editor- 
ship of, 258 
"Writing on the Floor," pamph- 
let, 273 
Wyndham, George, 58, 92 

Letters to Author after Ran- 
some trial, 169, 171, 173, 177 
Outlook article on Ransome 
trial, 156 
Wyndham, Mr. Percy, 62 



:\:rn\'M 



1 inl'n! 









" ''liilliiiiil 



''!''>"i!"!- 



•;^!i 



iil'l !'! 



iiKiiM'iii;;;!' 



r:\ 



,( i' •,!>'. Ik) jlijji: 

,Ji:;i:;;;!;i:;;iv!:i,Hi 



:!i!!i!:!|l!|!ii|lH!l!!!!!!!l 



i^lliilil.ll 



iiJHiii'-iHH 



•'■m 



;t;ii!)' 



liililiHIii